From ‘Felipe and Letizia’ to ‘Save the King’: how scandals and ‘streaming’ allowed critical television with the monarchy

Two known episodes. February 16, 1994. The press of the day reports the non-issuance of worst show of the week, late night broadcast on TVE’s La 2 directed by Fernando Trueba, who had just won the Oscar for belle epoque, and presented by The Greater Wyoming. The reason, the veto of the Entity’s management to interview the writer Quim Monzó, who a month earlier had made several jokes about the Royal Family and the wedding of the Infanta Elena on the program human people from TV3. Wyoming and Trueba refused to broadcast without the interviewee and the program was cancelled. A few days before, Jordi Pujol himself, then president of the Generalitat, had apologized, as the ultimate political leader of TV3, for some statements in a program that was broadcast almost at dawn on a regional television when the concept of “video viral”, just word of mouth.

May 22, 2007. Antena 3 broadcasts a double program, The Spanish of Historyan allegedly informative space in which after a survey of 3,000 citizens, electoral poll style or CIS study, a ranking headed by Juan Carlos I in which he surpassed Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote. The format, copied from France 2 (Charles De Gaulle triumphed there), was broadcast on prime time and it was presented by Matías Prats and Susanna Griso, then stars of the network’s news program. Among the commentators on the results, the journalist Nativel Preciado, the writer Antonio Gala and a former minister: José Bono.

On Friday, September 9, it premiered on HBO Max save the king, a documentary explicitly announced as dedicated to the “pacts of silence” around Juan Carlos I, in which there is talk of payments to lovers, blackmail and he is even described as the “engine” of 23F by a former agent of the Center Defense Information Superior (CESID). Bono is in this miniseries one of the political sources that confirms that scandals were covered up even in Zapatero’s governments. The premiere follows in the wake of The Bourbons: a royal familyanother documentary miniseries whose first chapters were broadcast by La Sexta on May 31 and can be seen in full at streaming on Atresplayer, the Atresmedia payment platform, that is, the same Antena 3 for which Susanna Griso continues to work.

Another question about save the king is that it is produced by Campanilla Films, SL, a firm owned by Mandarina, which in turn belongs to Mediaset. That is to say, the conglomerate behind Telecinco. The same Telecinco that in 2010 premiered Felipe and Letizia, a miniseries that fictionalized the courtship of the current Head of State, then still Prince of Asturias, with the famous Amaia Salamanca in the role of his wife. Or that in 2014 produced directly The kinganother miniseries, in this case a biopic of Juan Carlos I, absolutely complacent with all the controversies about it and with the curiosity that it was played by the same actor, Fernando Gil, who put a face on his son in the previous one.

Between 2009 and 2014 there was a small ‘boom’ of miniseries about the Royal Family that also included equally risky biopics about Adolfo Suárez or 23F

Between 2009 and 2014 there is a small boom of miniseries about the Royal Family that also includes equally risky biopics about Adolfo Suárez (2010, Antena 3) or 23F (2009 and 2011, TVG and again Antena 3). An oddity that arose in that wave was Alfonso, the cursed prince (2010), also on Telecinco and on the figure of Alfonso de Borbón, Duke of Cádiz and elder cousin of Juan Carlos and husband of Carmen Martínez Bordiú, Franco’s granddaughter.

Ángela Armero, veteran Spanish screenwriter who has worked on series such as Velvet, the fence or the last season of Tell mewas the author of the libretto of that tv-movie. In part, it explains that wave of ‘real’ fictions in which “they are figures known and loved by a wide audience that reacted very well to these productions, where the always functional cliché of ‘the rich also cry’ was brought to life with the morbid addition of delve into authority figures.” The stories of kings and queens “are stories of dysfunctional families, and as much glitz and pomp as there is, there are few things more dramatic than conflicts between parents and children.”

In the story about Alfonso de Borbón, “Juan Carlos I appeared as a rival in the succession to the throne of Alfonso and who decided was Franco. Nor did it make much sense to recount the intimacies of the future king. In 2010, several years before abdicating, the image of the King had not entered the slide of degradation that he suffered with the successive revelations of the Botswana hunt and the elephant, his relationship with Corinna, the financial scandals… not even Urdangarín It was then removed from the family’s agenda, that would not happen until 2011”.

“With the figure of the king emeritus, the season has been opened. A few years ago it would be unthinkable that a series could have been produced that has its great selling point in one of its lovers, ”says the screenwriter Ángela Armero

In the week before the premiere of save the kingAtresmedia released the trailer for Christ and King, presumed narration in a pop key of the relationship between Ángel Cristo and Bárbara Rey with the faces of Jaime Lorente and Belén Cuesta. The clip ended with Rey’s character greeting another off-camera as “majesty”, placing the obvious hook of reflecting Juan Carlos’s relationship with his most famous lover. Armero underlines it as proof that “with the figure of the king emeritus the ban has been opened. A few years ago it would be unthinkable that a series could have been produced that has its great selling point in one of its lovers.

In 2021 several fiction projects were announced far removed from those in which Armero worked: Javier Olivares, creator of The Ministry of Time, would produce a series on the life of Juan Carlos I for The Mediapro Estudio; Diagonal TV, the producer of Isabelprepared Royal Palacea The Crown to the Spanish going back to Alfonso XII to tell the story of the Bourbon family, and, finally, the only one about which there is news and the most openly critical, the Starzplay platform gave the green light to a fictionalized version of the podcast xkingby Alvaro de Cozar.

The communicator and series analyst Melania M. Bobi considers that “in the world of series, the influence of foreign critical productions and their reception by the Spanish public has been key. pass from Felipe and Letizia a Christ and King It is a qualitative leap that says a lot not only about creative freedom, but also about an audience willing to watch it”. Social and industrial change go hand in hand, with the arrival of platforms of streaming and their war for the subscriber, who seek to feed their catalogs with eye-catching content.

“It is more viable than a project with the characteristics of save the king have a team behind you that bets if there is a sufficient amount of capital to support the improbability of your success”, he comments. “A platform and a television channel always prioritize profitability, but the level of risk they accept is usually different.” In this case, it is what Bobi calls producing at a loss: “The objective is not so much the audience as being on the map in the tangle of supply, and that has the benefit of greater creative freedom.”

Greater creative freedom or… birth of a new cordon sanitaire? the same save the king it insinuates it with a small mouth by journalists with a conservative profile such as Casimiro García-Abadillo or José Antonio Zarzalejos and more clearly by the progressive Ana Pardo de Vera: to save the monarchy it was necessary to end the king. Ángela Armero suggests that the series announced about Juan Carlos “leave out his son, and it could be said that it is a very sophisticated tactic to protect him.”

José Bautista, investigative journalist for Fundación porCausa and New York Times, has covered topics abroad such as that of Albert Solà, the possible illegitimate Catalan son of the Emeritus, born before the current monarch or his sisters. Although Casa Real never agreed to speak officially, he recalls that “we were able to speak with many people who worked with King Juan Carlos, people who would not have done so 15 or 20 years ago and now they feel safer. That is a palpable change.” But, in his opinion, “the pacts of silence continue to exist, only weaker and in other forms.”

In 2018, Bautista worked on a report, also to be published abroad, about the existence of that journalistic “cordon sanitaire” of the Transition, in which he contacted many of the veteran journalists who appear in save the king. “Everyone except Pepe García Abad recognized more or less tacitly that they turned a blind eye to Juan Carlos’s financial or other dealings because it was considered that democracy had to be consolidated —he points out— and only Iñaki Gabilondo now says that perhaps They shouldn’t have done it.”

Thus, Bautista points out that “all the content that appears in save the king This is information that has already been published. It is in books that were already written in the 1980s and its authors appear in that documentary, such as Pepe García Abad, who denounced the king’s business and his fondness for elite businessmen in the 1980s”. The difference is “in that now that information reaches the media with the largest audience. Before, it stayed in books that very few read or programs that were broadcast in the wee hours of the morning. But since he had the mishap with the elephant in Botswana, the spigot has been opened.

The presence of great priests of monarchical journalism such as Fernando Onega or former minister José Bono “we can interpret it in many ways,” says Bautista, who points to the probable causes of this parade: “It is also due to money, this type of production Appearances pay very, very well, figures that would have to be there to specify them in this case, but we would be talking about three or four zeros. And there is another background factor: since the accident in Botswana opened the ban a little, the largest media began to feel authorized to publish uncomfortable information. It is also true that access to certain things is easier. Twenty years ago it was not so easy to access the Cayman Islands business registers or contact a prosecutor in Switzerland. Everything has changed a lot.”

From ‘Felipe and Letizia’ to ‘Save the King’: how scandals and ‘streaming’ allowed critical television with the monarchy