History and Tv in Spain

2012 (tv) | 2014 (web) | 2016 (web) | 2016 (tv) | 2017 | 2018

by Julio Montero

In Spain, television broadcasting started in 1956, and it worked as a government monopoly until 1983, when public channels of diverse Autonomic Communities started to broadcast. In 1990, commercial channels were opened in Spain, but this did not imply that the government channels were suppressed or privatised. On the contrary, government channels, “autonomic channels” and commercial channels overlapped.

During the first period (1956-1983) two channels broadcast: TVE1 (La 1) and TVE2 (La 2). They had the same Director-General and their programming tried to be complementary. This picture changed when a political regime based on regional Autonomic Communities was established. Then, every autonomic government launched its own regional channel: Catalonia and the Basque Country started in 1983; Andalusia, Galicia, Valencia and Madrid, between 1983 and 1990; and Canarias, Castilla-La Mancha, Asturias and Extremadura from 1990 to 2000. All of them focus on the general interest, even if they have a special consideration for their own communities.

In 1990, three new commercial channels started. Two of them offered open broadcasting (Tele 5 and Antena 3), and one of them offered pay broadcasting (Canal+). Lately, in 2004 and 2006, two more channels started: Canal 4 and La Sexta. With the arrival of the TDT broadcasting, every broadcasting entity (governmental, regional and private) has multiplied its broadcasting channels with theme channels (news, series, sports, music, etc.). In respect to the generalist channels this had had an influence on the broadcasting method, which combined present analogical broadcasting and TDT.

The emergency of TDT channels has been striking due to the fact that every regional government has given a great deal of authorisations in its region. On the other hand, digital television platforms have passed through a difficult process. Nowadays, there is one major platform, another one supported by Telefonica, and some of a more reduced scope. The programming choices are very similar in these channels and only films in premiere and pay per view football display the difference. The schedule offered by some theme channels focused on history documentaries, like History Channel, has many things in common with this last proposal.

Audiences are distributed throughout this arc: a bit less than the 50 per cent for the commercial channels (Tele 5 and Antena 3, together 35 per cent), and the rest for both TVE channels (21 per cent), the autonomic channels (15 per cent), and digital platforms on pay (11 per cent).

The Autonomic channels in Spain are public channels, financed at the same time by the Autonomic governments and the advertisers, which are also under the influence of the Autonomic governments. The first Autonomic channels on air were the Catalonian and the Basque channels, two regions which have been ruled since the Transition by the same nationalistic parties. The Catalonian Autonomic channel broadcast mostly in the regional language (Catalan), as well as one of the Basque channels broadcast in Basque language. However, the difficulty of this language and the its practical use by the population suggested to create since the beginning another Autonomic channel in Spanish, with the desire of switching into Basque as soon as the majority of the population can speak it.

Both the Basque and the Catalonian channels broadcast very early some documentary series with their nationalistic version of history, offered as an alternative to the official Spanish version. It was not only an alternative to the history defended by Franquism, but to the history of Spain, no matter what its ideology could be (conservative, liberal, socialist, etc). That is to say, it is not a complementary history but an alternative history: that which corresponds with the history of the region, conceived as independent from the Spanish rule. In some aspects, it could be said that a regional history is presented as the history of a repression: the one the Spanish governments imposed to the regions throughout the centuries.

TV3, the Catalonian channel, offered many history documentary series. They had a classical format and a laborious production, and among them, L’or de Moscú and Cambó had a special relevancy. The recent productions that reconsider the recent history of Catalonia (Civil War, Franco’s Era and Transition) follow the line of these documentaries, overall from 1994 until the present. The party in the government (moderate nationalism of Convergencia i Unió or radical nationalism of Ezquerra Republicana de Catalunya) have traditionally had a great influence on the documentary narrative, and the radicalisation of the demands presented in them. However, there is always the traditional demand of what it is considered to be “typically Catalonian” against what it is “Spanish”, often identified with the Spanish language. The series which contributed most to the cultural, political and social rehabilitation of the Catalanism were: El meu avi y Noms. They were series focused on the biographies of relevant personalities of Catalonia, that were broadcast between 2001 and 2006. They were co-produced by TV3 and Mediapro. At the same time, many not-serial documentaries were broadcast.

The arrival to the government of the radical nationalist party, Ezquerra Republicana, increased the number of documentary series with a demanding character: Zona roja, Dies de transició y Exilis (broadcast between 2003 and 2005). However, the series that were more successful (20% share) were: Histories de Catalunya (two series in 2003 and 2005) and Pecats Capitals (2006). They did not stress the demanding political aspects but they represented as assumed image of Catalonia as an independent nation. These series were focused on different aspects of the daily life, and they were very innovative from the narrative viewpoint.

Concerning the audience, the Catalonian TV3 has been the most successful channel among the Autonomic channels. Its history documentary series have been broadcast on prime time with fine shares. Three history series are noteworthy: Aquel 98. De la perdua de Cuba a la Setmana tragica, A l’ombra de la gran Guerra y L’herencia de Xarleston. The first one was broadcast between May and August 1998, and the last two were broadcast in 2000 and 2001. The three series were focused on social and political aspects from the loss of the Spanish colonies to the Civil War. The success of the first one encouraged to continue with the other two series, with similar characteristics and the same production team (co-production between TV3 and Mercuri).

The Basque television (ETB) has broadcast three documentary series with a historical character, with the help of two Basque production companies. These three series are focused on the recent history: La Guerra Civil en Euzkadi (1996); La transición en Euzkadi (1998) and Estatuto: 25 años de recuerdo (2005). All these series underline the existence of a Basque history, and stress the cultural, social and political particularity of the region against the (more or less intentional) misunderstandings of the Spanish governments. ETB has also co-produced a series of documentaries which have been firstly released in theatres and secondly shown on TV. The most important of them was La pelota vasca, which supported an auto-determination referendum as the only way for ending the institutional and political crisis opened by the ETA’s radical nationalism. Its narrative was forged by interviews with many personalities of the political, cultural and social spheres of the Basque Country and the rest of Spain, in order to give a broad approach to the “Basque problem”. The idea which raised from these interviews was that it was necessary a final political dialogue, in spite of the fact that this solution was not shared by everyone. To sum up, the version of history which is broadcast by the Autonomic channels in Catalonia and the Basque Country tends to support the nationalistic ideas embodied by their governments. There is a stronger link between politics and history in these programmes than in the vision offered by the national channels, no matter which ideology is supported in them. Andalucia, Galicia, Madrid and Valencia are the other Autonomic Communities with Autonomic channels. In spite of the fact that all of them have often programmed history programmes (specially Galicia and Andalucia), none of them has presented the historical demands with a political message posed by the Catalonian and Basque channels. They have not presented an alternative version of history yet. On the contrary, they have confirmed with a regional size the basic ideas supported by the official history of Spain broadcast by TVE. The differences in focus (liberal, conservative, socialist) depend on the political colour of the government of every region. In any case and with the only exception of Tele Madrid (which has identified itself with the Spanishness), the channels of Galicia, Andalucia and Valencia have stressed which is culturally specific of every community.

The most important History Programs put in the air by the main Television Channels of your Country with a distinction between public and commercial Channels

Nowadays (2007) there is no programs to popularise history in the air, in spite of the fact that some documentary miniseries have been broadcast.

The best known of them is Que treinta años no es nada, made up of four 75 minutes long chapters. It tackles the social and cultural development in Spain from the approval of the Constitution to the present, with many interviews to outstanding personalities of this period. It has been broadcast on La Sexta.

The rest of commercial channels have not even scheduled something like this in five years. Just in some occasions, a documentary dedicated to relevant or surprising historical events have been broadcast, like the miniseries Antena 3 produced concerning what it was said to be Franco’s unknown features: the first chapter on the circumstances of his death; the second on the anarchist attempt to kill him – no more than a kind of planning and a clumsy study of the possibilities -, etc. These chapters were broadcast again some years after on Tele 5.

Another program which could be considered as historical – in the sense that it tackles the past – is entitled Hormigas blancas. It is broadcast in Tele 5, and consists on a brief revision with newspaper cutting of the life and remembrances of some popular people. A glance on the chosen personality is very revealing: Only one of them belongs to the political sphere – Adolfo Suárez – whilst the majority – 18 in 19 – are related to the show business. Due to the sources the program chooses, it can be considered to be a celebrity journalism.

In respect to both public channels, there have not been history programs in the last four years, at least with a conventional format. However, some documentaries with a historical nature have been broadcast. The newest trend in this field is the broadcast of fiction series with historical settings that try to reconstruct the economical, social, cultural, and daily life of the period in which it is based on.

These series have a special relevancy. The first season of Cuéntame… has a broad audience, reaching the five favourite programs of the share every week. The series started in 2001 and it is nowadays in its ninth season. Its narration starts in the last years of Franco’s era, and continues chronologically until the beginning of Transition. Progressively it has lost its popularising aspects and has underlined the dramatic elements. Actually, the series was thought to last just one season, but its success suggested its creators that it was necessary to reduce the chronological rhythm of the events. This fact has made the series lose its character of historical narration which portrays the life of a middle class Spanish family.

The other series is Amar en tiempos revueltos, which was first broadcast in 2005 and it is now in its fourth season, with a periodicity of four chapters a week. The beginning of its narration coincided with the triumph of the Popular Front (February 1936) and since then it has been developed through Franco’s era. The dramatic plot is important with respect to the reconstruction of the atmosphere of these years, and the scenarios are also controlled by a historian (Angel Bahamonde).

Some particular programs concerning relevant ephemerides – 50 años de Television española, for example – or the decease of some popular personalities – mostly show business people – are broadcast, as well.

Channels specialized in History programs with a rough estimate of the kind of programs they broadcast.

Canal Historia. It broadcasts documentary series and miniseries. Most part of them is produced by an American company, A&E Television Networks. It barely has any production by its own.

Documanía. It was a documentary channel which included series on history. It finished broadcasting in 2006, and it has been substituted by Odisea channel, which broadcasts documentary series on science, technology and social sciences. On some occasion, it also broadcasts series of a historical nature.

A list of History Programs which in the past or in recent years have been considered of particular importance.

The most important programs broadcast on television correspond to TVE, due to the fact that it has produced many of them throughout its long history.[1] Many have been documentary series, but other formats had also been shown. They were scheduled in prime time very often before the emergence of the private channels and the fight for share. The best known – from oldest to newest – are:

The Sixties. This is the decade in which crews for the broadcast of historical documentaries in TVE were forged. Foreign formats are imitated and other channels’ archive material is bought:

  1. Testimonio: A documentary series on Spanish history through the 20th century. Every chapter had a preface by an outstanding personality. It lasted four seasons, and it was broadcast three times a month, prime time.
  2. Treinta años de historia: It was made with the editing of Trente ans d’histoire and Les grandes batailles, as well as some shots of The Twentieth Century (CBS). Some material came from the archive of NODO and other Spanish archives on the two world wars. The result was a prime time documentary once a week.
  3. El mundo en posguerra: A weekly documentary series which gathered in the success of the latter. It used images of the CBS archive and lasted a year in the air (1969).
  4. Biografías: It was a biopic series of thirty minutes long with 30 episodes. It told the story of popular people from different areas of knowledge (1967). It was shown once a week in prime time, and lasted a year more with a new title: Ahora y siempre (1968-1969).
  5. La víspera de nuestro tiempo: Its goal was to “introduce people different authors in relation to their geographical and human landscapes.” They were thirty minutes long documentaries in prime time, shown weekly in TVE2. (1967-968).
  6. Medio siglo de imagen. Thirteen chapters about the main Spanish archives. It was shown once in fifteen days. Prime time. 1969.
  7. Históricos del balompié. Twenty four chapters on the history of the most important football teams in Spain. Late prime time. Once a week (1969).

The immense majority of history documentary series during the Sixties that were broadcast on TVE (specially, La 2) wanted to reveal unknown aspects of “the Spanishness”: geography, folklore, art and culture of the country. This production and broadcast line coincided with the governmental aim of promoting tourism – from abroad and also inside Spain – with the slogan “Know Spain.” Two reasons confirm this point. Firstly, the close relationship between television programming and the Ministry of Information and Tourism. Secondly, the fact that Salvador Pons, who planned these series, left his position as Chief of Information in the Ministry of Information and Tourism to be the first Editor in Chief of La 2 (from November 15th 1966 to 1974). Actually, he was the editor of Conozca usted España.

The rest of the series fits the concept of documentary. With more or less relevancy, every series present testimonies and – sometimes – experts who talk about a topic. In some of them anthropologist and historians have also a role. Many of the series were shot by filmmakers (young directors who studied at the first centre for the cinematographic education in Spain). Besides, the goal of these documentaries was primarily educative (to talk about people, facts, landscapes, institutions, etc.), but they did it within a context of propaganda. The Ministry of Information and Tourism (the one which controlled the information and communication during Franco’s era) was in charge of launching this policy, consisting on the censure of contents, mostly transformed into self-censureship.

It is interesting to underline the fact that since La 2 was created there was a press office that was dedicated to promote its programmes through the press: articles and news were presented to announce the release of series and programmes, with the aim of creating a certain feeling of expectation. In a time when audiences were barely measured, the opinion of the specialised press was highly valued. Due to the fact that La 2 had to compete against TVE1, this channel used the press office as means for publicising its products which – at this time – were conceived as high culture.

However, series did not strictly talked about history in the sense that their main goal was not to popularise Spanish history. The first aim was to popularise what was understood as “the Spanishness” through different formats, remarkably biopic: biographical profiles of people from different areas, like the arts, the politics, the literary world and general culture. The first programme conceived as a biopic was Biografías. After this, Ahora y siempre came, followed by Lo que va de siglo and La víspera de nuestro tiempo.

Another kind of programme was dedicated to the Spanish institutions – specially to their history -. Toda la memoria de España presented to the general public the most important museums, archives and libraries of Spain; Recuerdos del Teatro Real showed the history and the actuality of this centre; Medio siglo de imagen gave a first version about the history of Spanish cinema. Other series were focused on the habits of the diverse regions of Spain (Conozca usted España, Fiesta, Aquí España).

To sum up, history documentaries focused on world history instead of the promotion of Spain were an oddity (among them, they were Treinta años de historia and El mundo en postguerra). They were broadcast on TVE1 at the same time the programmes mentioned above were broadcast on La 2. However, these documentary series (Treinta años de historia and El mundo en postguerra) were not considered as history programmes nor even by their creator, Ricardo Fernández Latorre. He was a journalist who always worked at television and always thought about his job as a work of journalistic documentation: a way for understanding the present from a past viewpoint.

There is not a clue to think about an openness for producing these programmes. It seems that they corresponded with two aims. On the one hand, they offered what it was branded as “quality information,” or the aim of offering an explanation on the historical background. In this sense, it has to be underlined the fact that history later than the First World War was not taught at the universities in Spain, even in the Sixties. Officially, the Spanish history always finished in 1898, after the Spanish-American War in Cuba, and only tackled the Civil War at the end of the decade of the Sixties, without studying it in depth.

A whole conception on historiography is at the core of this trend: the fact that it was considered of little importance to study the history of the recent years. For this reason, what it was not history (recent past, understood here as a period from which there are still people alive) was labelled “journalism.” The past which is not studied by history is only a background for the present, something immediate. It was also understood as a kind of journalism called “retrospective journalism” at that time. The second aim of these series was related to the task the government gave to television. The goal was spreading the knowledge, and overall, the right version of the recent history.

The lack of audiovisual resources at the newly created television, specifically of archive materials, led to bought the French and American series mentioned above. It is probably that they were acquired as a pack along with Grandes Batailles. I have found out that Grandes Batailles was broadcast on TVE (at least 13 episodes), but it seems difficult to believe that all the content was integrally broadcast, so we can suppose that a special version for Spain was created. Thus, precious archive material was used for underlying the Regime’s version of the 20th century history.

This hypothesis can be supposed from two facts. The first one, the fact that the series did not use the parts in which experts and testimonies were shown, a very strange editing choice, overall for a director who used them so much in other documentary series. Treinta años de historia and El mundo en postguerra only presented the images with a voice over. It coincided with the official version the Regime gave on the recent world history. It was a way to explain the Spaniards how the Regime behaved as it did.

Ricardo Fernández Latorre, the director of both programmes, pioneered the production of history documentaries in the Spanish television. There is not data about other previous works by him as a filmmaker. He was a journalist at TVE and he was the editor of a series of documentaries, but he did it as something complementary to his work as a journalist: a way of talking about the present through the past. From a formal standpoint, the images shown in Treinta años de historia and El mundo en postguerra were part of a French (Trente ans d’histoire; Les grandes batailles) and American (The Twentieth Century) documentary series. There were also many archive footage acquired at the Filmoteca Española and NODO, as well as the Ministry of Air Force and Navy, the Instituto Histórico de Barcelona (Institute for History of Barcelona) and TVE itself.

They were unknown images for the Spaniards. This fact contributed a lot to the success of the series, but the footage presented with an interpretative aim that avoided showing the original testimonies of witnesses and the experts’ commentary. These elements of control have to be underlined due to the fact that the same director skilfully used them in his first TV work: the series Testimonios. That is to say, the avoidance of this resource is intentional, a way of assuring the correct interpretation of the recent history.

Another fact to be underlined here is the lack of a history adviser for these series. There was no historian working on them. All the members of the team considered themselves as journalists or – in the case of La 2 – filmmakers.

The Seventies. During the seventies the historical reconstructions got to the Spanish television, and the material shot by Spanish TV crew increased. Programs on general historical discussions with historians and other specialists began. Actually, some of the most important series – in terms of audience and impact on Spanish memories – were produced during this period, especially until 1975. Since then onwards, the political circumstances – the Transition – lead to fill the schedule with programs concerning the political background.

Franco’s death and the process of Transition to democracy radically divided the political history of Spain, and also the history of its public television. Nonetheless, this rupture in content did not change what was understood as the adequate TV formats and formulas. It is necessary to take into account the fact that there were not rigorous studies of audiences at that time, and therefore the opinion of the specialised press and radio were the only clue to check the acceptance or rejection of TV formulas. This is why the formats remained many years until they were drained, and the members of the team were assigned to other tasks.

One case that is important for our study is also a characteristic example of this. In 1974, a history documentary series of 13 episodes (30 minutes on the history of Spain between 1896 and 1936) was produced: Tiempos de España. Their history advisers were: Joaquín Abrarás (the official historian of the Franquism, concretely an expert on the Second Republic and the Civil War); Ricardo de la Cierva (assistant of Fraga in the old Ministry of Information and Tourism); Palacio Atard (a conservative historian with liberal ideas, linked to the ACN de P); Ramón Salas Larrazábal (colonel of the Army and military historian on the Civil War); and Martínez Bande. That is to say, a team of historians who were close to Franco’s Regime at that time. However, the most remarkable fact was that they were professional historians. That is to say, TV opened itself to the opinion of historians and left the arena of politics, at least to some extent. It seems that these series were not finally broadcast. La tribuna de la Historia followed this trend – let historians talk about history, making the documentary series leave the arena of politics – with a new TV format which was very successful at that time: the debate on television, whose best example is – besides La tribunaClave.

  1. España siglo XX: It was a documentary series that studied the Spanish daily life from the beginning of the 20th century to the moment of broadcast. It had 150 chapters with a weekly frequency. It is one of the most remembered series. (1970-1973). the scripts were written by two relevant intellectuals who supported Franco’s Regime. Both of them were on their seventies when the series were broadcast. The first part of the series, consisting on 52 episodes, was written by José María Pemán. He was a monarchist, catholic and conservative, who supported Franco’s dictatorship. His task was describing the period 1889-1918. The second screenwriter was Eugenio Montes, an early Falangist whose task consisted on adapting the original fascist ideology to Franco’s pragmatic ideas. This is why his part of the series was devoted to the justification of the Regime: from the interwar period to the Seventies. None of these authors were historians: they were just writers, journalists. Herms says that in Monte’s episodes “the definitive ideologization of the programme took place, since historical events were interpreted or distorted in a very particular way.” (Baget Herms, Historia de la televisión en España 1956-1975, p. 217). The series had a great success, specially during the first period, maybe due to the distance with the described historical period. .
  2. Under the influence of Civilisation (1969), La huella del hombre (1969-1970) was broadcast with 52 chapters and an evening broadcast; as well as La noche de los tiempos (1971, 50 chapters in prime time). The latter of great importance.
  3. Los españoles: Its goal was to think about the Spanish character through its history and the description of typical crafts. They were 46 thirty minutes long chapters, shown two by two. Prime time. (1970-1971).
  4. Si las piedras hablaran: It was a historical reconstruction based on the texts by Antonio Gala. The leitmotif was the search for a place of a certain importance in the history of Spain. This series was very popular. (1972). Similar to this but inferior in importance was Los pintores del Prado (1973).
  5. La tribuna de la historia: This program was focused on the discussion by historians a thirty minutes long documentary shot ad casum. A presenter hosted the debate and testimonies of people who lived the events – when it was possible – and the opinions of the specialists: historians, writers, journalists, etc. It was broadcast once a week in prime time in two different periods: the first one lasted two complete years (1978 and 1979), and the second was shown 1981. La tribuna de la Historia did not present something that could be understood as a main issue. The most important thing for the creators was to show the ideas of the experts and (when possible) the characters who lived a historical event of social relevancy. The idea of “general interest” has to be understood from a cultural standpoint: the understanding of a particular aspect of history that can illuminate the present time, even in a remote way. The series had three editors in chief but we cannot talk about three periods, due to the fact that it was broadcast in a continuum from 1978 to 1981. The first episodes were directed by Luis Ignacio Seco (between April and December 1978, with the only exception of the Summer season), probably 13 episodes. After him, Ignacio Salas directed the programme from the episode number 21 to the episode number 59. His substitution by other director was a managerial choice, and it did not have an effect on the rest of the team. Actually, there were not many theme changes. Quoting Salas, the programme finished when a new TVE Director in Chief changed the members of the team. By this time, the team work was more difficult and the format was drained. Until the episode 57, there are only 8 episodes concerning Spain. From these 8 episodes, 5 are placed between the episode 35 and the episode 57. Taking into account that, of the remaining three, one tackled the approval of the Constitution in 1978, and the other two tried to balance the reconverted Franquism and the new ideological forces (which were linked to the Second Republic and the siege of the Alcázar of Toledo), it can easily be understood the difficulty for talking about Spanish matters. The tendency of the political Transition was to balance and silence some dark aspects of the recent history in order to avoid confrontations. From the episode 57 onwards, Spanish issues appeared more often, and it derived into a revision of the Spanish contemporary history from the triumph of the liberal ideology (linked to an event which is generally considered as the emergence of the modern Spanish nation, the Independence War, 1808-1814) to the Fifties. During this period, 57 episodes in 76 had a Spanish theme. In general, the experts who discussed had different ideologies, with a majority of liberal-conservative historians, followed by social-democrats, socialists, and – rarely – communists. The audiovisual contents that posed the debate – 10 minutes long until 1981, and 30 minutes after this – could not be considered as documentaries. Simply, a historian or an expert on the issue wrote a text that constituted the voice over which completed the archive footage that the editor chose. The programme was successful, but it had not got a great deal of viewers. Although it was a prime time programme, it was broadcast on La 2, a minority channel. Only between January and April 1981 it was broadcast on TVE1. The main characteristic of the programme was to perpetuate the novelty of Biografías (April 3rd – November 13th 1973, prime time, La 2): the documentaries were used as an introduction for the discussed issues. That is to say, this kind of programmes were focused more on the discussion than on their documentary part.

The Eighties. Some history programs which were lost during the Transition were retrieved in the Eighties. Then a series of documentary and history programs were produced with the goal of reconsidering the recent past, linked to the legitimisation of the past and the beliefs the losers of the Civil War fought for. The prevailing and even exclusive issue was the reconsideration of the 20th century from this perspective. Besides, the first co-productions with international companies (BBC and RAI) took place at the end of the decade (BBC and RAI). Historians were at the core of the history programmes broadcast on TVE, as screenwriters, advisers, guest historians, etc during the Eighties. It was maybe a way of separating history from the political debate, while helping to forge an “official history” of the immediate past: the 20th century, and more specifically, the Second Republic, the Civil War and the Franquism. The presence of historians in TVE can be divided in three different periods. The first one was not successful because it was not properly established: the last months of Franco’s Regime. The second period covered the political Transition, from 1975 to 1982 approximately. These were years in which the spirit of political negotiation influenced the contents of history programmes. The goal was to avoid a new civil war (at least, that was the justification at that time). This fact involved to accept that the war was a great mistake and both parts were guilty of being unable to avoid it. That is to say, the mistake was shared by both parts and the atrocities were committed by both parts. As a conclusion, it was necessary to begin again and forget the immediate past. Finally, the third period was characterised by the presence of historians with different ideologies who represented different political parties. Between 1982 and 1996 the official history was close to the ideas of the Socialist Government: the Spanish rightists and upper class leaders rejected to recognise the validity of a Government that during the Second Republic tried to reform and modernise Spain, because it was a thread for their old privileges. From this viewpoint, the Partido Popular members took the legacy of the privileged ones, and the Socialist party were the reformists. This interpretation remained (with another stress) during the years the Partido Popular was in the government (1996-2004). In this period, two history series were supported by this party: on the one hand, a documentary series, and on the other hand, a fiction series, both with great success. Both series reflected the normal life of average people during Franco’s Regime. The fiction series was a transposition of The Wonder Years (1988-1993), and told the story of a boy who grows up during these years with a nostalgic tone. During these years there was not a particular choice in historiography matters, in spite of the fact that the programmers claimed the opposite in their fight for audiences, specially when TVE lost its monopoly and the private channels start broadcasting. In this sense the introduction of cultural aspects of popular history in history programmes (both documentary and fiction) was an attempt to offer something new. Nor even the emergence of female history as an important academic approach had an impact on television series. It has to be said that three biopic programmes on three women were broadcast, but it had to do more with the relevancy of the issue than on the new historiography trends. .

The most relevant series were:

– La víspera de nuestro tiempo: A glance on the Spanish history in order to underline its effect on the present. Evening scheduled. It was a history program which made historians discuss during one hour and fifteen minutes. Another 15 minutes long documentary shot for this program was previously broadcast. It was very well known for many years, from 1981 to 1985. La víspera de nuestro tiempo followed another programme that has been mentioned before, La tribuna de la historia. It was substituted because the last one was considered long and boring during its last seasons. However, La víspera de nuestro tiempo was a very similar programme concerning content and format (the editing of history footage with a voice over written by a historian, followed by a discussion), but it showed some variations concerning the length. In fact, director and editor also had conceived La tribuna. The managers of the programme said in an oral interview that the title came from an old idea that was never used. TVE had the copyright and the message seemed attractive. That was the only reason. The only change was the length of the footage of history film with the historian’s voice over (I use this description because it is not a proper documentary film). It turned to be 50 minutes long. It was broadcast from 1981 to 1985, and it experienced another great variation concerning the way it was broadcast: it was shown once a week, on La 2, at 15.30 (afternoon timetable). At the same time, TVE1 broadcast a feature film (Primera sesión), so the audience of La víspera de nuestro tiempo was very small. Maybe its reduced influence explains its long exhibition. In November 1982, the new Socialist Government carried out an important change of staff, but La víspera de nuestro tiempo continued in spite of the fact that many of the guest historians had a liberal or conservative ideology. Discussions were ideologically balanced in La víspera de nuestro tiempo, with historians of every tendency: conservatives, liberals, and leftists. Perhaps conservative ideas were more relevant in the program because of the importance conservative lecturers had among who taught at universities (concretely, among professors) at that time. After this programme, many history series with a leftist leaning were broadcast between 1982 and the triumph of the Partido Popular in 1996. These series were focused on the history of the 20th century, with a special stress on the Second Republic, the Civil War and the Franquism. It can be stated that professional historians arrived at TVE during the Eighties, with programmes like La Tribuna de la historia. This trend began at the end of Franco’s era (November 1975), but it remained during the Transition, in spite of the fact that programmes with special focus on news, political analysis and political popularisation were more relevant. In this sense it is very revealing the fact that a documentary series was produced during the late days of Franco’s Regime based on the opinions of historians who supported Franco. However, it seems that the series was not broadcast. Since then onwards (La tribuna de la historia and La víspera de nuestro tiempo) the presence of historians as advisers in history programmes was very usual. They even helped with the writing of the script, and when they did it, they were also the editors and the guest historians in the discussions.

  • Memoria de España. Medio siglo de crisis: The actor Fernando Rey was the host of every chapter of this documentary series on the 20th century. He also played its voice over, very important in these documentaries. Prime time. (1983).
  • España, historia inmediata; España en guerra. 1936-1939 y Ayer: These three series had continuity, and a similar number of episodes: 21, 23 and 35 each. The first was broadcast in prime time on TVE 1 in 1984, the second in 1987, from 11 pm to midnight on TVE 1, the third in 1988 from 11.3° pm to 0.30 on TVE 2..

The Nineties. Despite the fight for audiences since 1990 onwards, there were some series of interest with regard to two fundamental issues: the end of the 20th century – its summary and interpretation – and an important ephemeris: the 400th anniversary of St. Ignacio de Loyola, Fray Luis de León and St. Juan de la Cruz; the universal Exposition in Seville; the 50th anniversary of the end of the Second World War; and the centenary of the 98 literary group. In spite of this abundance, the old series with more than 23 have disappeared. Why is it such a variety of history programmes during the Nineties? There are two main reasons. Firstly, the share: every ephemeris was remembered on TV to gain some audience. Of special relevancy there were 1898 (which commemorate the Spanish-American War), Felipe II, Carlos V, El fin de siglo, etc. The same can be said about the programmes on the World War II. However and in contradiction to programmers’ ideas, these programmes were not successful. During these last two decades, the only successful series have been those concerning political matters of general interest (La transición) or the social and historical reality of Spain (Memoria de España). The second reason for the variety of history programmes is an increase of formats, more concretely the weekly fiction series. Cuéntame cómo pasó was a great success that began with its first season (September 2001) and continues nowadays. It is a prime time weekly programme with historical content, but since the third season the history plots were more secondary due to the necessity of stopping the course of the years in order to make the series longer. The series was created during Aznar’s presidency, and a TVE executive said to me in an oral interview that the prime minister himself approved and supported the programme. Because of its success, the PSOE government (2004) has supported as well its broadcast, but since its electoral triumph onwards the plots concerning the opposition to Franco have increased. As a consequence, the daily life problems of the Alcántaras are less important right now. It is remarkable the fact that the series does not count with the advise of a historian (or at least, there is no new of it on the web site or the articles related to it), maybe because the creators did not think about it as a history series. The other fiction series concerning history is Amar en tiempos revueltos, which is also a great success. It is broadcast five days a week at 4 p.m., and in spite of the fact that “it is not a historical reconstruction”, every episode shows history footage taken from the TVE archive. On the web site an explanation for the use of footage is given: “It is not an exhaustive analysis of the period (first years of Franco’s Regime) but an attempt to represent the spirit of the time”. The credits reflect who the history adviser is: Ángel Bahamonde, professor of Contemporary History at the Universidad Carlos III of Madrid. His advising tasks consists on reading the scripts before the shooting in order to avoid historical mistakes (chronological, in many cases), and answering the questions the screenwriters may have. Sometimes the screenwriters ask many details concerning prizes, adequacy of sets, wardrobe, etc. However, Bahamonde is not considered to be part of the screenwriting staff. There was not a history adviser when the series started, and Bahamonde began to work when the screenwriters needed him. He helped with the definition of one of the main characters, whose bad temper and rude expression Bahamonde advised to lighten, due to the fact that it was inappropriate for the time he lived in. None of these series has a specific historical interest, in the sense that a version of the Spanish history is not intended to be offered. However, both Cuéntame and Amar en tiempos revueltos offer it in spite of their motivation, and the creators are increasingly concerned with this fact. Finally, it has to be underlined the fact that, since some years ago, these series have circulated through different formats. The fiction series are sold (or rented, in less degree) on DVD, and the documentary series (specially La transición and Memoria de España) are offered for a small prize when buying a national newspaper (El País, El Mundo, Abc), as a strategy for selling the newspaper itself.

Now, the outstanding programs were:

  1. Testigos del siglo XX y Los años vividos: Two documentary series (1990 and 1992) based on the testimonies of relevant personalities of the 20th century in Spain. Ten chapters each. The latter in prime time.
  2. Lo que el siglo nos dejó: Documentary series of eleven chapters, very conventional in the way it was shot. It was broadcast after lunch in evening schedule, and it had a slight character. (December 1999 to March 2000).
  3. Tres grandes del siglo de oro: Biopic of St. Ignacio de Loyola, Fray Luis de León and St. Juan de la Cruz. It was broadcast on night schedule during the Summer of 1991.
  4. Felipe II: Series of seven episodes on the Spanish king and his kingdom. Every episode was made up by a thirty minutes documentary and a thirty minutes discussion lead by a historian. It was shown prime time in TV2 in 1998.
  5. Exposiciones universales. El mundo en Sevilla: A series of 13 chapters on the universal expositions from London 1851 to Seville in 1992. Weekly broadcast in late prime time during 1992.
  6. Memoria de guerra: Seven chapter series on the Second World War. Broadcast in evening schedule in 1995.
  7. Mujeres en la historia: Documentary biopic; 19 episodes on the relevancy of women in the history of Spain. It was broadcast in late prime times during 1995 (the first ten chapters) and 1998 (the rest of them). It was renewed in 2003.
  8. The history documentary series of most importance, impact and dissemination in the history of Spanish television was broadcast during this period: La Transición. Formed by thirteen 50 minutes long episodes, it was broadcast in its first season during July and October 1995 – in Summer – and had an average share of almost 15 per cent. Every chapter was watched by 2 million people. The next year, the series was put back – from April 1996 – with more than a million people share. Its sale on DVD has been a success, too, thanks to the way it was distributed through daily national newspapers such as El País y El Mundo.

First decade of the 21st century. The documentary series are on the eve of disappearance. The oblivion of this genre is represented in the way Carlos V, un monarca, un imperio – an 11 chapters series of great quality produced concerning of the 500th anniversary of the birth of this king – was broadcast: It had no known periodicity whilst it was broadcast, between September 2000 and August 2001.

Despite this, the most expensive and ambitious Spanish history documentary series was produced during this period. It was Memoria de España, which included wide dramatisations and expensive settings, especially those referred to the years before the 19th century. It was directed by the historian Fenando García de Gortázas, very well known for his books to popularise history. The series had 26 episodes and run from the first men on the Iberian Peninsula to the general elections of March 2004. It was shown through two seasons: the first one, between February and April 2004, and the second between November 2004 and March 2005. It was broadcast on TVE1 in prime time. It was watched by many people: 20.2 per cent and 14.9 per cent of share, which means 3.7 and 2.7 million people, respectively.

History in fiction:

The Spanish production of history fiction series is not remarkable enough until 2001. This is why we can talk about two stages: from 1956 to 2001 and since then onwards. Besides, it is very difficult to define ‘history fiction series,’ since there are many essential concepts involved. We have separated these two stages attending to the motivation the creators of the series argued. Thus in the first stage (1956-2000) there is no ‘historical motivation’ or at least ‘historical awareness.’ During the second stage (from 2001) this awareness raised, but it is important to underline that it did it without what we may describe as ‘historical intentionality,’ the attempt to talk about history. The creators of the series have always stated that their main goal is to dramatise history, not to talk about historical events.

During the first stage, the history series coincided with the series which adapted literary works: overall, novels and Spanish plays. That is to say, they did not strictly have a historical content, but they adapted the historical content of the novels on the one hand, or they adapted old novels and plays that turned out to be ‘historical’ years after they were written. In any case, there was a non-intentional consideration of history. However, the evolution of Franco’s Regime itself had an effect on the way history was considered.

The most important example of this production line was Novela, a popular TV series that lasted from 1962 to 1979. Every week a novel was adapted to be broadcast in five 50 minutes episodes once a week. However, this final format was developed through the years, since there were adaptations with a smaller length, and others which were broadcast even two times a day, at 3.30 p.m. and 9 p.m. (always prime time). Many of the best Spanish actors, actresses and directors were trained in Novela: Pablo Snaz, Luisa Sala, José María Escuer, and José María Caffarel were among the actors and actresses; Pilar Miró, Pedro Amalio López, Juan Guerrero Zamora and others, among the directors.

Of special relevancy were two series broadcast under the label Novela, with a history content: Diego Acevedo (1966) and La saga de los Rius (1976). Diego Acevedo was a 13 episodes series that gave and overview of the conflictive reigns of Carlos IV and Fernando VII, with a patriotic tone (it was advertised as “Stories about Iberian people”) against the French invasion of Spain. Every episode lasted 30 minutes. La saga de los Ruis was another 13 episodes series which lasted 50 minutes. It was an adaptation of a famous novel by Ignacio Agustí, and it told the story of three generations of a Catalonian bourgeois family from 1880 to 1916. This is why it portrayed at the same time the industrialization process in Catalonia. The series was formed by three blocks: Mariona Rebull, Los muertos no se cuentan and El viudo Rius.

Other series with a historical content broadcast in Novela were Nace un hidalgo (1967) – a Cervantes’ biopic narrated by Quixote and Sancho -, El conde de Montecristo (1969) – the longest series in Spanish history, with 15 episodes -, La pequeña Dorrit (1970) – on a novel by Dickens with Pilar Miró as its director -, and Los tres mosqueteros (1970), among others.

In 1968, a mini-series entitled Cristobal Colón became a milestone in the history of Spanish audiovisual fiction of history content (four 65 minutes episodes). The reason was the novelty of its production system, due to the fact that it was the first co-production with another country, in this case Italy. The director of this successful series was Italian, Vittorio Cottafavi, but the producer and the main actor were Spaniards: Javier Pérez Pellón was the producer, and Francisco Rabal embodied Cristobal Colón, a story on the difficulties to discover America. This mini-series was followed by another Spanish-Italian co-production, La leyenda del alcalde de Zalamea (1973), another adaptation from a play directed by Mario Camus. Misericordia (1973), another adaptation from the book by the Spanish author Benito Pérez Galdós, represented the difficult life conditions in Spain during the last years of the 19th century.

Until this moment, the literary aspect of these series helped them to avoid being censured, even when they represented, as Misericordia, difficult features of the Spanish reality, disguised by its historical aura. However, from 1973 onwards some TV series or telefilms began to have problems with the censure system, for their portrayal of the Spanish reality, even when they talked about the past. This was the case of Juan Soldado (1973), a TV movie directed by Fernando Fernán Gómez, who also started in it. Juan Soldado was released in several international film festivals with success, but was terribly cut out when broadcast in Spain. It happened something similar to Otoño romántico (1973), a series set at the end of the 19th century which was censured because of the image of a soldier as a weak and coward character. The 13 episodes series El pícaro (1974) continued this critic line.

These three series were not very important from a production viewpoint, but they advanced a sense of realism which prevailed in other adaptations like La saga de los Rius – mentioned above – and the first adaptations of novels by another Naturalistic Spanish writer, Blasco Ibáñez, Cañas y barro (1978) and La barraca (1979). Actually, the end of the Seventies is the golden age of the history literary series in Spain.

There are two main reasons for this new, critic approach to the historical social reality of Spain: firstly, the end of Franco’s regime, and secondly, the beginning of a financial collaboration between the Spanish Ministry of Culture and the Spanish production companies. Along the Seventies, production companies in Spain asked for an agreement with TVE in order to produce films that could also be shown on TV. However, this agreement was not possible until 1979, when a mix financed system proved to be good for TV contents. As Patricia Diego states, from the beginning of the Seventies until the end of this decade, TVE entrusted diverse production companies to produce series and mini-series. Sometimes, TVE offered its staff and facilities to the production company (“producción asociada”), and other times, it only offered financial help (“producción financiera”). The result was so satisfactory that the Ministry of Culture, RTVE and the production companies in Spain signed an agreement to produce films which could be transformed into mini-series. By this agreement, the Ministry of Culture awarded 1,300 millions pesetas to produce films with literary plots. This agreement was renewed in 1983 and 1987. That is to say, there were ten years for producing literary series.

The result was a golden age for the Spanish series with a historical background. Some of the most important are: Fortunata y Jacinta – 1980, 10 episodes -, Ramón y Cajal – 1981, 9 episodes -, Los gozos y las sombras – 1983, 13 episodes -, Juanita la Larga – 1983, 3 episodes, on La 2 -, Crónica al alba (1983), El mayorazgo de Labraz -1983, 4 episodes, 60 minutos -, La plaza del Diamante -1981, 4 episodes – , El obispo leproso -1983, 4 episodes -, Sonatas – 1981, 6 episodes -, Teresa de Jesús – 1984, 8 episodes -, Los pazos de Ulloa – 1985, 4 episodes -, La forja de un rebelde – 1988, 9 episodes, 60 minutes -, Los jinetes del alba – 1990, 5 episodes -, La regenta – 1995, 3 episodes -, Vicente Blasco Ibáñez. La novela – 1998, 2 episodes -. All these series can be separated in three blocks: literary series (Fortunata y Jacinta, Los gozos y las sombras, Juanita la Larga, El obispo leproso, Los pazos de Ulloa, etc); biopics (Ramón y Cajal, Teresa de Jesús, Goya -1985-, Miguel Servet -1988-, Pedro I El Cruel -1989-, Vicente Blasco Ibáñez, etc); and original series, which were the exception (Los desastres de la guerra -1982-, Crónica del alba -1983-, El mayorazgo de Labraz -1983-). That is to say, there was a remarkable tendency to produce literary series with a historical background without being properly history series.

As we have said at the beginning, from 2001 onwards the situation has varied, since Cuéntame lo que pasó and Amar en tiempos revueltos present an aware use of history in them, even when their goal is to be entertainment without becoming an audiovisual version of history. Nonetheless – as we will see in the answers to the queries concerning the Eighties – they use history footage in their narratives, and their characters face the challenges of their historical time – Franco’s regime in Cuéntame lo que pasó and the Civil War and first Franquism in Amar en tiempos revueltos . The differences between them are considered in the next answer (the Eighties), but it is important to underline here that this relevant change was the consequence of the search for ideas to launch a really new series in Spain (Cuéntame). Besides, it happened in a time characterised by a worldwide reflection on history (anniversary of the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, the Second World War, and commemoration of the end of both wars).


[1] There is a very complete list of them, from the beginning to 2003 (Sira HERNÁNDEZ CORCHETE, La serie de Televisión Española La Transición, como documental de divulgación histórica, Pamplona 2004), as well as an article (Manuel PALACIO, “La historia en la televisión”, Cuadernos de la Academia, Vol. VI, septiembre 1999, pp. 137-150).

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