HAVANA TIMES — There are many different opinions about Cuba’s weekly TV series, film and software “package”: many defend it, while some believe some restrictions should apply. In its attempt to draw more viewers (by copying others), Cuban television has launched new police dramas that hope to compete with CSI and other foreign productions – series whose aim is pure entertainment but which don’t have half the budgets of their counterparts. These series run into a basic financial limitation: there are no sponsors in Cuba, only State subsidies.
Dia y Noche (“Day and Night”) is a Cuban police drama that has not yet been surpassed. I recall that, during my childhood and adolescence, Cuban television showed adaptations of great literary classics, such as Red and Black, Wuthering Heights and Le Pere Goriot. Even though these were made on a shoestring budget, they had excellent directors and memorable performances. Many of those screenwriters and directors have either died or left the country. We also had good series for young people, such as Hoy es siempre todavia (“Today is Still Forever”), co-written by Alberto Serret and Chely Lima, which portrayed inter-generational clashes.
The heavy-weight screenwriters are no longer with us. They continue to offer script courses, however, and nothing seems to change. I know this because I took one of those courses and none of fellow students was later invited to submit a script – they were all rejected. Positions within the television industry are set in stone and taking down the contention wall is not easy. So, the “black sheep” look for alternatives in other media.
More and more foreign (canned) materials are taking up Cuba’s TV programming. Many television segments have been put together using imported shows (such as musicals). Some have the most banal scripts, but the shows continue on the air, for the salaries of the crew must be justified somehow. That’s what people call being “practical.”
Back when I was working in television, I noticed that advisors were excluded from discussions. Their points of view were barely even respected – they weren’t even considered while preparing a project. The director’s opinion was like an edict handed down by the crown. That is why mediocre programs continue to be made by the same retinue of directors, actors and the like.
Cuban television is one of the mass media with the most restrictions in the country. I once asked why singer-songwriter Alberto Cortez was never on TV and they told me, under their breath, that he was banned from television because of some statements he had made – and the list of such “banned” figures goes on and on.
What people look for in the “package” is variety: people choose what they want to watch. There may be a lot of trite stuff in it, but one can also find interesting documentaries, the occasional film with artistic merit, etc. You have to take what you get on Cuban television, choose from among four channels that show the same films (aired three to four times in a single month), or the films they pull out of an old chest, or the violent films they show on Saturday night. If you don’t like what’s on, your only other option is to turn off the TV.
There aren’t many options and they insist on copying others, and it’s impossible to keep up with the pace of better equipped producers. I know a saying to the effects of: “Being original is very good. Pretending to be original is very bad.” Cuban television ought to be saved from within Cuban television.