SAO PAULO – Brazilians plopped down in chairs gathered around sidewalk TVs and sat down to meals with sets looming over their tables Friday night as the country settled in for the final chapter of a smash soap opera that enthralled its fans for months.
"Avenida Brasil" told the story of a young woman's vengeance on the nouveau-riche stepmother who abandoned her in a landfill. But Brazil avoided a second vengeance — power outages that electricity experts had feared might hit as TV watchers suddenly all went back to normal activities once the episode ended.
Earlier Friday, the national electricity grid warned power distributors to prepare for sudden surges in electricity use from millions of viewers switching on living room lights, raiding refrigerators and turning on microwave ovens after the 100-minute broadcast.
But as the final minutes of the "telenovela" drew to a close, there weren't reports of any significant power outages blamed on the soap opera.
Telenovelas, prime-time soap operas with average runs of 200 episodes, are hugely popular in Brazil, where the plot lines often become front page news and where discussions of the heroes and villains are a major topic of conversation.
Aware of the immense popularity of "Avenida Brasil," President Dilma Rousseff postponed a Friday political rally endorsing the governing Worker's Party mayoral candidate in Sao Paulo. The rally had been set to be held at the same time as the soap opera's final chapter.
"I haven't missed a single episode of 'Avenida Brasil' since it began, and there is no way I will miss the last chapter," said secretary Elizabeth Sarti as she sipped a cup of coffee at a Starbucks. "Me and my husband have invited a group of friends for dinner and for the finale."
The show's enormous success was due to the fact that instead of focusing on the wealthy, it centered on Brazil's burgeoning middle class, which has grown by 40 million people in the last decade. Its main protagonists came from the middle class, while a handful of upper-class characters were relegated to the background.
"It is by far the best telenovela I have ever seen, and I have seen a lot," said Ricardo Fonseca de Martins, a computer analyst. "Its story of revenge, love affairs and of people who rose from poverty is what keeps me glued to the TV set every night."
For Renato Meirelles, CEO of Data Popular, a marketing firm specializing in the middle and lower classes, "Avenida Brasil" tapped into a previously untapped market.
"Here in Brazil, there's a real problem in understanding how the lower middle class thinks," he said. "This lower class doesn't hold up the elite as a model. The reference for these people is not the rich, but rather the neighbor who succeeded."