It’s an old joke that never seems to get old.
What if, behind the scenes of a crazy soap opera, there’s an equally crazy real-life soap opera taking place? What if backstage it’s boiling over with just as many steamy romances, ugly breakups and petty feuds?
That’s the appealing premise of NBC’s Telenovela, a zany new sitcom starring Eva Longoria.
It premieres with back-to-back episodes at 9 and 9:30 p.m. Monday (although its regular time slot will be 7:30 Mondays beginning Jan. 4).
Longoria, a Corpus Christi native best known for Desperate Housewives (2004-2012), plays Ana Sofia Calderon, the leading lady of a popular American-made, Spanish-language soap called Las Leyes de Pasion (“The Laws of Passion”).
Ana Sofia’s larger-than-life character, Pasion, is a viewer favorite. But there are a few things about Ana Sofia that she doesn’t want the public, her fellow cast members or the new network boss to know.
Her biggest secret is a doozy. “She doesn’t speak Spanish,” Longoria says. “She’s very assimilated. But she has found herself here having fame and stardom on this Spanish soap.”
Then her life on Las Leyes de Pasion gets truly complicated.
“She is knocked off balance when her ex-husband returns to the soap opera,” Longoria says. “They have a lot of history together. They had a horrible divorce (after he cheated on her with Shakira). So it causes for a lot of tension and a lot of comedy.”
The actor who plays Ana Sofia’s ex, Jencarlos Canela, knows a thing or two about telenovelas.
In 2007, he made his TV debut in Telemundo’s Pecados Ajenos (“The Sins of Others”), then signed an exclusive contract with the network to star in a slew of other telenovelas: Mas Sabe el Diablo (“The Devil Knows More”), Mi Corazon Insiste en Lola Volcan “(My Heart Beats for Lola Volcan”) and Pasion Prohibida (“Forbidden Passion”).
“Me having been in that world, I can tell you that soap operas are just as intense,” Canela says. “Things happen that you would never believe happen.”
For example, he says, you’d be surprised how often the soap-opera slap, such an over-the-top gesture, really happens behind the scenes. “Sometimes it happens for no good reason,” he adds. “It’s just, ‘Good morning’ and slap! Right in the face.”
Longoria — who’s also a hands-on executive producer, involved in every aspect of the show, from casting to giving the incoming directors the lay of the land — likes to describe Telenovela as a workplace comedy.
“Everybody is going to relate to it, because we deal with universal themes,” she says. “Whether it’s workplace struggles, jealousy, couples, dating, divorce, child-raising, everything that our characters deal with are things that people deal with in real life, whether you work in a dentist’s office or a lawyer’s office or on a soap opera.”
Longoria takes great pride in the fact that Telenovela will give a lot of gifted Latino performers the chance to shine for a broader American audience.
“I was excited to rediscover talent that’s been around but nobody really looked at in a way that they should,” she says. “People like Diana Maria Riva (who plays Mimi, Ana Sofia’s best friend) or Amaury Nolasco (who plays a soap villain, even though he’s a total softie).
“They’ve been acting for a long time, but this is a show in which their talents are going to be magnified. The world is going to go, ‘Oh, my god, who is that?’ even though they already know.
“I love finding new talent, like Jadyn Douglas (who plays a bombshell co-star) and Joe Moreno Brooks (a co-star who’s often showing off his six-pack abs). These are the young new stars of tomorrow.
“I’m very excited for people to watch it, because I think audiences are going to enjoy watching it as much as we enjoy making it.”
- 9 and 9:30 p.m. Monday
- KXAS/Channel 5