Mipcom: Globo’s Guel Arraes on ‘Rio Negro,’ a Brazilian ‘Roots,’ ‘Under Pressure’ (EXCLUSIVE)

As Globo make some bold moves in social drama production, its Guel Arraes, its chief content officer for series. drills down on the slate and big hit “Under Pressure”

Almoço final de ano 2013 -
Courtesy of Globo

One of this summer’s Latin America’s TV events was the storming success in Brazil of Globo series “Under Pressure” which punched the biggest late primetime ratings for the Brazilian behemoth since 2012.

“A huge hit,” according to The Wit’s Bertrand Villegas, the ER procedural bowed out with first eight-episode a 27.6% rating for a Tuesday 10.30 pm time-slot which averages around 20%.

Set in the emergency room of a hugely underfunded public hospital in Rio de Janeiro, “Under Pressure” sees its surgeon Evandro (Julio Andrade) and doctor Carolina (Marjorie Estiano) battle their chronic lack of resources with an mixture of ingenuity and desperation – at one point, Evandro cuts part of garden hose to drain a pregnant woman’s stomach – and battle the feelings they have for one another despite Evandro’s still being haunted – literally – by his dead wife.

Shot with verve and point, the camera cutting kinetically to details of an operations and the emotions of the characters, in Evandro, Brazil, disillusioned by endless public corruption, has the makings of a national hero.

Now Globo wants more. Having scored with the public with “Under Pressure” and with a MipDrama Screenings jury with “Jailers,” which won its Grand Jury Prize last April, Globo plans a social-themed interactive fiction, a public-sector-set school drama and “Rio Negro,” which Guel Arraes, Globo’schief content officer for series, describes as a Brazilian “Roots.” Arraes and Thiago Ferreira, Globo head of international sales, fielded questions from Variety, in the run-up to Mipcom.

Does “Under Pressure’s” success encourage you to produce, if possible, more high-end social realist drama? If so, what’s in the pipeline?

Arraes: Producing engaging content that tackles social issues is part of Globo’s DNA. So, we thought of a new series line focused on this theme – so-called social dramas. The first shot was “Jailers,” a series about the daily routine in the Brazilian correctional system. Then we shot “Under Pressure.” Now, we are developing “It’s Your Call,” an innovative format of interactive fiction that will explore major behavioral themes, such as euthanasia and abortion, as well as social issues, such as corruption. And we are currently contemplating a project to address public schools. In addition, we also intend to develop a project called “Rio Negro” (“Black River,” in a loose translation), a period piece exploring another take on slavery in Brazil – this time from the slaves’ point of view, something like a Brazilian “Roots.” Despite being a period piece, since it is set in the city of Rio de Janeiro during the first-half of the century, the series will discuss several current issues, depicting the origins of social inequality and prejudice in Brazilian society. So we do have a strong line of social drama series featuring a broader perspective.

Just how successful was “Under Pressure” compared to other big hits of the last five years?

Arraes: ’Under Pressure’ has punched a same day time-slot ratings record for series or shows since 2012,  according to the National Television Panel. No other show has equalled those ratings in São Paulo since 2011, and in Rio since 2009.

To what would you attribute the success of “Under Pressure”?

Arraes: It is a theme of large relevance to the Brazilian population. Alternatively, two themes have been on Brazilians’ minds for the past few years: Health and security. Also, the drama aspects and characters are spot on. “Under Pressure” has a classic format in this new age of the series in Brazil, a balance between a drama structure, based on episodes with independent secondary plots, and a longer story-line connecting them. Besides being focused on the characters, the plot introduces a Brazilian hero during a time when the country is desperate for good role models. And it is all very hard, raw, but in the end, we have this hero fighting against it all.

“Under Pressure” was co-produced with Conspiraçao, based on one of its movies, which allowed the production to access Article 3A tax finance. Has Globo co-produced dramas that much in the past or is this a relatively new development¿ And do you think that you will do so more in the future?  

Arraes: Yes. Globo maintains several partnerships with independent producers investing in different types of productions, also using benefits provided by Article 3A of the Audiovisual Law. We intend to maintain such partnerships in order to develop the Brazilian audiovisual market.

Was the budget for “Under Pressure” any higher or the shoot or development time longer than on other recent series? And how would it compare to telenovelas.

Arraes: The shoot process was slightly longer than usual, but “Under Pressure” was produced in a way as to allow us to keep to the average budget for series.

What was Globo’s creative input in “Under Pressure”?

Arraes: Basically, the series scripts. Another ace card of this production was certainly the great interaction between the creators from both producers.

One tendency seen clearly at free-to-air broadcast networks around the world is their reconversion from channels into multi-platform content producer-distributors. Is this now happening at Globo?

Arraes: Globo has invested more consistently in different opportunities and avenues to create and distribute its multi-platform content. As content producers, we have a quality portfolio available for broadcast TV, cable TV and digital platforms. New broadcasting venues and opportunities allow us to further enhance our production processes and come up with different programming strategies, also considering our partners abroad. It’s all very challenging and exciting. If the content is good, it’ll go far. We have already experimented with releasing episodes digitally first; or even entire series for binge watching through Globo Play – Globo’s VOD platform. The results have shown us that Brazilian audiences are increasingly using all of the different types of platforms, which reinforces the potential of our own content.

Maybe the biggest challenge for many networks is to make series which have a large impact domestically but also sell around the world. Could you give me any guidance on sales or pre-sales on “Under Pressure” and “Jailers”?

Ferreira: This is a great moment for Globo’s drama series. We are experimenting with new ways of producing and distributing our stories, and betting more and more on new genres and formats. “Under Pressure” had an average reach of 40.2 million viewers a day in Brazil on its free-to-air broadcast – it managed to keep the public’s adrenaline running through its nine episodes. The series was also screened at the last Toronto Film Festival and was well received by critics, which reinforces our perception that the product is relevant to varied audiences. “Jailers” had its world premiere at the last MipTV, where it won the Grand Jury Prize at the MipDrama Screenings. In Brazil, the series has not yet debuted on open TV, but is already available on our digital platforms, where it is being very well received by the public. From our experience, products that perform well at home also have great chances of succeeding abroad.