NBC’s new Eva Longoria comedy Telenovela premieres Jan. 4 at 8:30/7:30CT, but the network is offering viewers a two-episode sneak peek this Monday, Dec. 7 at 10/9CT.
Longoria, who created and stars in the sidesplitting series, said the idea came from her love of the ’70s sitcom Soap and the 1991 Kevin Kline/Sally Field film Soapdish — coupled with tales told to her by pals in the telenovela business.
“They would tell me stories about crazy things that would happen to them on set,” Longoria says, “and I would be floored by the amount of drama that happened that was bigger than what was actually happening on the show.”
Then it was up to Longoria to figure out how to contain that deep well of comic material in a way that maximized its potential.
“We developed it originally as a one-hour, and it was going to be in the vein of an Ugly Betty or Desperate Housewives,” she says. “Like a true soap within a soap. But we couldn’t sustain the funny. We shelved it for a little bit and tried to develop it over and over. Then, we got these great two writers, Chrissy Pietrosh and Jessica Goldstein (Cougar Town, My Name Is Earl) — I was actually pitching them something else — and they were like, ‘Let us take a stab at that telenovela concept.’ I was like, ‘Yes!’”
And once Longoria met her character Ana Sofia on the page, she was smitten. Ana headlines the popular Spanish-language soap opera Las Leyes de Pasión (The Laws of Passion), and though her onscreen dramas earn her a paycheck, the real melodrama in Ana’s life comes courtesy of her colorful costars, a handsome new network chief (Chuck’s Zachary Levi) and a sudden addition to the cast — her ex-husband Xavier (Jencarlos Canela).
“I had always had the world in my head and I knew Ana Sofia would be a Spanish soap star who didn’t speak Spanish, but the rest of the characters in the world, they totally populated,” Longoria says of Pietrosh and Goldstein . “They created this world in which Ana Sofia has now flourished.” And sometimes falls down. And falls off things. And over them.
“The other thing that made me really want to do this was the amount of physical comedy,” Longoria explains. “The way these writers write is my kind of funny. I love physical comedy — I love big, broad comedies that can appeal to everyone and that deal with universal themes. The world we’re in is specific, but the themes we deal with are pretty universal.”
Longoria says she’s also thrilled to foster the same sort of family environment she enjoyed on Desperate Housewives.
“I’ve always wanted to be in an ensemble show,” she says. “Housewives was an ensemble show, and after Housewives I was offered script after script after script that was like,‘You’re the lead! You’d be the lead! You’re the lead!’ and I was like, ‘But I want an ensemble show!’ I fought to make sure we’re all on the poster, I fought to make sure that we’re all in the promos — because I want America to know this is a show about all of these people, not just a show about Ana Sophia.”
Longoria’s longtime friend Amaury Nolasco plays Las Leyes de Pasión’s mustache-obsessed villain Rodrigo Suarez.
“He’s my brother in life, so I know he is funny and I know his talents,” she says. “Amaury plays a villain who has a soft side and that’s his life story. He used to tell me this all the time, “I never get the good-guy roles, I just want to be a good guy.” He’s the most sensitive soul. So I said, ‘Oh my god, those telenovela villains are super arch and mean — wouldn’t it be funny if the villain in our telenovela was a yoga, vegan, cat-loving person?’”
It would indeed. Very funny.
Another old friend, Everybody Loves Raymond‘s Alex Meneses, plays Ana Sofia’s costar and rival Isabela, an alpha diva who didn’t take kindly to being usurped as the show’s luscious ingenue.
“Alex is another one of those actresses who has been around for a long time and retired and then came back out of retirement and got this show,” Longoria marvels. “I’ve known her for a long time. She is so beautiful, and she is the one in the cast who is the first to sign up for ‘throw that silly thing on me! I’ll wear that crazy dress! I’ll do the helmet hair!’”
“Then, with Jencarlos, I knew that I wanted someone that was authentic from the telenovela world,” she continues. “He is a soap star, he is a pop star — he is everything Xavier, except, Jencarlos is sweet and not self-involved in real life. To us, to America, he is a fresh new talent. In Latin America he is as big as Ricky Martin.”
Longoria calls Diana Maria Riva, who plays Ana’s fellow divorcee and best friend Mimi, the Ethel to her Lucy. “The minute she walked in I was like, ‘That’s my Mimi!’”
As for the rest of the core cast — Jose Moreno Brooks, Jadyn Douglas, and Izzy Diaz — “this is their first show,” Longoria says. “But they came in and they really embodied what we were looking for in these roles. They are interesting to watch and they are sweet and funny, and as we progressed in the writing we started to write to them, and that really helps them pop!”
See a sneak preview of Telenovela Monday, Dec. 7 at 10/9CT. The show officially premieres Mondays, Jan. 4 at 8:30/7:30CT.
For more on Eva Longoria and Telenovela, check out the January issues of Channel Guide Magazine and DISH Network’s Hopper magazine.