Portuguese viewers riveted to soap opera

True to their Latin traditions, the Portuguese like cafe conversations, street reunions, music, and dance. But between the hours of 8:35 and 9:15 p.m., five days a week, they go silent. The bustle of pedestrian life evaporates, the cafes go mute, and in cities, towns, and villages throughout Portugal people crowd around their TV sets.

During these 40 minutes, Portuguese life revolves around the country's most popular TV program, a Brazilian serial called "Dancing Days." All else takes second place.

"Dancing Days" is a low-budget, not very well-acted soap opera. The serial, which has been running for almost a year, concentrates on the loves and treacheries a middle-class family and a small restricted circle of friends who live near Rio de Janeiro's Copacabana Beach. The action takes place alongside fast cars, good-looking apartments, Beaches, and long nights.

"Dancing Days" tells you as much about modern Brazil as "Peyton Place" used to tell you about the United States. But in postrevolutionary Portugal, it is a striking social phenomenon.

Its record-breaking TV ratings underline the extent to which Portugal's most important medium of communication has become depoliticized since the hot communist summer of 1975. "Dancing Days" is the latest of a number of imported Brazilian soap operas which have been gradually pushing aside the documentaries and the debates.

Says Manuel Beja Murias, one of Portugal's leading journalists, "The life portrayed in the serial is what every Portuguese bank clerk and factory worker aspires to. It is a fantasy, but an ambition all the same."

The influence of the serial reaches beyond the TV screen. A "Dancing Days" magazine, with fan mail and pinups of the main protagonists, outstrips the more serious newspapers in sales.

The book sales and the T-shirts may turn out to be a passing fad, as most crazes do. But there are signs of more lingering influences. A linguistics department has been formed at the University of Lisbon to study what academics have seen as a corruption of the mainland Portuguese language by Brazilian slang.

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