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Telemundo and BuzzFeed want to reinvent the telenovela using audience data

The time-tested telenovela genre is getting a digital overhaul from NBCUniversal’s Telemundo and BuzzFeed, which are collaborating on 10-part millennial soap opera “Much Ado About Nada.”

Storylines for the English-language show will be informed by BuzzFeed data about what resonates with a younger, mobile-oriented and multicultural audience, and producers are leaving the door open to change the narrative mid-series based on viewer reaction.

While there have been plenty of telenovela parodies, “nobody has earnestly set out to take this classic genre and create a full-on telenovela for millennials,” said Peter Blacker, executive VP of digital media and emerging business for NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises.

“Much Ado About Nada” will contain hallmarks of a classic telenovela, including love, betrayal, revenge, and redemption, but with a modern, digital twist. Set in Calabasas, Calif., over the course of one weekend, the story revolves around Alexa, who runs a social-media firm and is hosting a political fundraiser for her client, who’s running for the California governor’s office. The Dia de los Muertos-themed masquerade party leads to a series of mistaken identities and reveals the characters’ true intentions “in a swirl of deception, treason, infidelity, and scandal.”

BuzzFeed and Telemundo created the series based on research showing heavy interest among Hispanics and younger audiences in both politics and social media, according to Blacker. And it’s timed to debut around the November elections, “in the middle of one of the most politically charged years of all time,” he added.

“Much Ado About Nada” is slated to launch in the fourth quarter, with each 10-minute episode distributed on a weekly basis across Telemundo and BuzzFeed digital platforms. Telemundo also will air segments of the series on its “Un Nuevo Día” morning show, and the cabler and BuzzFeed will both promote it in a broad social-media campaign in Spanish and English.

Blacker’s team at Telemundo is working with the BuzzFeed crew led by Matthew Henick, head of development for BuzzFeed Motion Pictures, on the project. Plans for “Much Ado About Nada” kicked off after the two execs met following NBCUniversal’s $200 million investment in BuzzFeed last summer.

The first five episodes of “Much Ado About Nada” will be produced prior to launch, with the remaining five to be developed based on BuzzFeed insights on audience reaction. Telemundo will present the series to advertisers next Monday, May 16, as part of NBCU’s upfront.

“This will be a living, breathing thing, thanks to BuzzFeed’s analytics,” Blacker said.

The parties are in the process of casting the show, and they’re currently in talks with talent. One of the characters will be a young U.S. military veteran who returns to L.A. after a tour in the Middle East, given affinity among Hispanic audiences for military vets, Blacker said. BuzzFeed and Telemundo plan to conduct a talent search to cast a real-life returning Hispanic vet for the role.