3 (2012), n.2, pp.128-142
Received on 11 July 2012
Nostalgic representation of reality in television fiction: an empirical study based on the analysis of the Spanish television series Cuéntame cómo pasó.
Representación de la nostalgia en la ficción televisiva: un estudio empírico basado en el análisis de la serie española Cuéntame cómo pasó.
Universidad Rey Juan Carlos (RJC) – España
Estudiante de doctorado
Universidad de Málaga (UMA) – España
La transición española de la dictadura a la democracia es a menudo descrita como un ejemplo de negociación o acuerdo entre las élites (Sánchez Cuenca and Aguilar, 2009: 433). Las élites periodísticas y políticas, conscientes de su importante papel histórico, establecieron un consenso sobre determinados temas (la democracia, la Constitución, la amnistía) o personajes (Rey Juan Carlos I)con el fin de garantizar la estabilidad del proceso democrático (Zugasti, 2007, 2008). La televisión, que articula el discurso de las masas, ha sido uno de los medios básicos para ilustrar el desarrollo. Entre los principales contenidos audiovisuales mayoritarios destaca Cuéntame cómo pasó (2001-presente), una serie de televisión diseñada para explicar, con un tono nostálgico, los cambios acontecidos desde 1968 a nuestros días. En este estudio se ha elegido una muestra aleatoria de episodios con la intención de verificar la representación del proceso político que contextualiza a la serie. Para ello se analizan diferentes elementos como: las opiniones de los principales personajes o sus situaciones personales, políticas y geográficas. De este modo intentamos desmontar la construcción del punto de vista que santifica la versión oficial. Asimismo discutimos la escenificación pacificadora y nostálgica, porque construye estereotipos y tabús alrededor del proceso y caracteriza esta serie como una culminación simbólica de la democratización llevada a cabo por las élites.
The Spanish transition from dictatorship to democracy is often described as an example of negotiation or agreement between the elites (Sánchez Cuenca and Aguilar, 2009: 433). Journalistic and political elites, aware of their important historical role, agreed a consensus on certain issues (democracy, constitution, amnesty) or characters (King Juan Carlos I), in order to ensure the stability of the democratic process (Zugasti, 2007, 2008). Television, which articulates the discourse of the masses, has been one of the basic means used to illustrate the development. Among the highlights of recent major audiovisual content, Cuéntame cómo pasó (2001-present) -a TV-series designed to explain changes with a nostalgic tone in Spanish society since 1968 until today- stands out. By choosing a random sample of episodes for this research we propose to verify the validity of the representation of the political process which contextualizes the series. By analyzing many elements, such as the opinions of the main characters, their personal, political and geographical situations, we try to show the construction of a focal point that sanctifies the official version. We also stress the pacifying and nostalgic tone, which constructs stereotypes and taboos about the process and which characterizes this series as a symbolic culmination of the democratization undertaken by the elites.
Representación de la sociedad española; ficción; series de televisión; Cuéntame cómo pasó. .
Spanish Society represented; fiction; television series; Cuéntame cómo pasó.
Sumario: 1. Introducción. 1.1 La ficción en televisión. 1.2 Las series de televisión en España. 1.3 Explicación política. 2. Objetivos. 3. Metodología. 4. Resultados. 5. Conclusiones. 6. Referencias bibliográficas.
Summary: 1. Introduction. 1.1 Fiction on television. 1.2 The TV series in Spain. 1.3 Political transition. 1.4 Political explanation. 2. Objectives. 3. Methodology. 4. Results. 5. Conclusions. 6. Bibliography.
1.1. Fiction on television
During the 1930s, the major film companies began to enter the television business, companies such as Columbia, Hollywood, Disney, Warner Bros., MGM, Twentieth Century Fox and Paramount. In this period the first fictional genres of television appeared (produced as "dramatic anthologies"). From this moment on many films were adapted as television series. We can now see how the American television drama has evolved taking four basic forms (McCarty and Shrum, 1993): episodic series, the serial, the mini-series and the anthology series (these series were common in the sixties within the television schedule). They were exported to other countries as well, such as Spain (Señor fiscal, Perry Mason or I Love Lucy). As Pacheco (2009) said, the television fiction resembles to stories, novels, theater and film, takes their various elements and codes to their peculiar television recreating.
At this time, Spanish reproductions or imitations of this type of series began to appear in 1966-1967. Examples are Diego de Acevedo, La familia Colón or Diana en negro (García de Castro, 2002). This phenomenon has continued to this day with such emblematic series as Verano Azul or Farmacia de guardia. In 1995 Spanish series became more and more successful and popular. This phenomenon is called "hegemony of domestic fiction" (García de Castro, 2002). There are four aspects to the “hegemony of domestic fiction”: the consolidation and growth of private broadcasters, the emergence of a new sector of industrial production, the change of the production model and ripening of a new narrative realism (Álvarez y López, 1999).
In the early years of this century new series have appeared such as Ala…Dina, Ana y los siete, Javier ya no vive solo, Médico de familia, Los Serrano, Siete vidas, Un paso adelante, Los ladrones van a la oficina, Los hombres de Paco, Policías, Un paso adelante, Aida, Aquí no hay quien viva, La que se avecina, Águila roja, Cuéntame cómo pasó, etc.
Finally, these kinds of fictional series have become one of the key elements of television. In the hierarchy of television fiction television occupies one of the highest places. It is considered the key to the valuation and consolidation of the television industry (Palacio, 2001).
1.2. The TV series in Spain
The evolution of TV series in Spain can be divided by decades. In the 1960´s the first series with original texts were born. The 1970's were the years of preparation and transition. In the 1980's the first assessment of TVE self production took place. The 1990's have been a hegemonic stage for the series, the stage of rise and renewal. And in 2000 the series consolidated their position in Spanish television (García de Castro, 2002).
The first fiction series was broadcasted in the 1960´s and it was in live in a studio. It started the "golden age" of the series with the Estudio 1 program and Spanish fiction (soap operas) such as Érase una vez, Galería de maridos, Las doce caras de Juan, Mañana puede ser verdad, Historias para no dormir, etc. At this moment a phase of worldwide transformation began, motivated by mutations in systems of production and the internationalization of programs. At this time European television began to serialize adaptations of literary works with a basic narrative film. Both dramatic study (teleteatro) and later serialized versions (telenovela) would become popular in the early years of television in Spain within the school of a so-called 'third way', somewhere between theater and film. Following García de Castro (1999) we can say that these early productions were characterized by: 1) live performances, 2) realization in a single television studio and two cameras, 3) a theatrical structured script, and 4) the monotony of construction or visual language and poor lighting and sound.
The real impact of the weekly soap operas occurred in the early 1960's, specifically in 1962 with Ignacio Agustí’s Mariona Rebull. From this point on serial adaptations became known as telenovelas (shown daily at 3:30 pm with a duration of 15 minutes). In these years the transformation and modernization of technical and artistic resources in the production of television series began. Soap operas such as La vida empieza hoy, El tercer rombo, La pequeña comedia, El memorial de Quevedo, Juana la loca, Novela II, El conde de Montecristo, Usted puede ser el asesino started.
In the 1970's the Spanish production of series or miniseries began. A process of adaptation of cinematic storytelling techniques to produce telefilms of Spanish character such as Curro Jimenez, Crónicas de un pueblo, La saga de los Rius or Cañas y barro. Increasingly sitcoms with a female family vocation (which center on female family members) such as Una mujer de su casa, Mónica de medianoche or Compañera te doy, became popular with the audiences.
The 1980's are characterized by an intense political and social life, the serials´ crisis and the emergence of private broadcasters at the end of the decade. In the last years of this decade serials began to dominate television programming with a greater realism, reflecting the social change. This explains the success of series such as Verano azul or Anillos de oro. These two series are the beginning of realistic fiction television (Bertrand, 1992). All these self-produced series reflect real, everyday life.
In the 1990s, the Latin series was a cultural product with specific characteristics of aesthetics, form and content. This genre became less important until 2000, as they appeared only during day time TV (García de Castro 2002). In 1991 Farmacia de Guardia started on air, and from this moment on a number of self-produced series with similar formats followed it: Lleno por favor, Ay señor señor, Compuesta y sin novio, Médico de Familia y Pepa y Pepe. The 1990´s produced the consolidation of independent production and this influenced other areas of programming, affecting television fiction in a significant way (Huerta Floriano, 2008). García de Castro (2002) claims that the development of fiction is characterized by the following aspects: 1) the series invade the prime time; 2) afternoon becomes a second prime time thanks to daily serials (Calle Nueva, Al salir de clase, El super, etc.); 3) the series begin their specialization with themes that go beyond family relationships; and 4) domestic fiction programs have eroded show programs. After 2000 the renovation of Spanish television fiction began with the help of technical and technological advances and changes in consumer habits.
At present the progress of Spanish series production has stabilized and the series format is standardized in all television channels. Since the beginning of the new millennium, the different television channels produced a certain series format with examples such as: Policías en el corazón de la calle, Los Serrano, Aquí no hay quien viva, El comisario, Los hombres de Paco, Siete vidas, Aída, Un paso adelante or Cuéntame cómo pasó. The main formats in Spanish fiction are the drama and dramedy (Sangro and Huertas, 2007). Sitcoms are known in Spain as sitcoms or television comedies. Dramas or soap operas are called dramedias in Spain and have as a main characteristic the mixture of drama and comedy. These series are issued in prime time, which in Spain means the temporal slot from 10:00 pm to 00:00 am. The main example is Cuéntame cómo pasó.
1.3. Political transition
The Spanish transition from dictatorship to democracy is often described as an example of negotiation or agreement between the elites (Sánchez Cuenca and Aguilar, 2009: 433). Journalistic and political elites, aware of their important historical role, agreed a consensus on certain issues (democracy, constitution, amnesty) or characters (King Juan Carlos I), in order to ensure the stability of the democratic process (Zugasti, 2007, 2008). The consensus has been defined as a “relationship of complicity” (Barrera, 2007: 10). It meant a common attitude to silence those topics which might damage the democratization of the country.
After the establishment of the democracy the consensus turned into an agreement of the two big political parties in the most relevant topics (Imbért, 1990: 35). The agreement naturalized certain conditions to keep the social stability of the democracy. After the elections of 1982 there has not been any other improvement of the institutions because –according to Colomer (1998: 80)-, the political hierarchies tend to stop the trials of reform. Some parts of civil society have reached the erosion of determined topics for example with the amnesty of the recent past. During the political transition the amnesty over the crimes of the supporters of the dictator Franco tried to make the coexistence between the old hierarchies and the individuals returned from the exile easier.
Only from 1995 was it possible to erode that taboo with the creation of the association “Memoria Histórica” (Historic Memory), and the debates and civil actions of different collectives (Vidal – Beneyto, 2007: 196). To resume the situation with the words of Colomer (1998: 181): “the virtues of the transition have become the vices of the democracy”.
1.4. Political explanation
Haro Tecglen(1) said that "the television is creating the society in its image and likeness". Surely, says Yubero (2003), television is the most powerful instrument of socialization that has existed throughout human history. The relationship established with television affects society, no doubt about their perception of the world, knowledge and social behavior and the relationship that they build with others, relationships that are based upon the "preconceptions" obtained as viewers.
Television and series are developing a script in which the use of actual information (news, historical events, etc.) is a common practice adapting some real historical events to produce fictitious situations within their frames. Thus, we could say that a TV series is not only a place of entertainment but a source of information in which the plots, dramas and human conflicts suffered by its fictional characters come to rise in some cases to a category of credibility very similar to that reality holds. For this reason, reality itself creates the raw material for the creation and recreation of series situations in which plots, characters, contradictions and conflicts converge.
As Galán Fajardo (2006) says, the trend that began in the late 1990´s extends and expands further with the appearance and the emergence of numerous reality shows or talk shows in the programming, where the characters recount their experiences -often playing a script. These situations blur the boundaries between reality and fiction. Tele-realidad (telereality) has been defined as the trend which blurs fiction with other genres.
Cuéntame cómo pasó (Tell me how it happened) is contextualized between those professional series which include serial drama with a dose of comedy. Starting in 2001, the series reflects the life of the Alcántara family, a stereotypical family that lives during the political transition. Cuéntame cómo pasó was created to commemorate the 25 anniversary of the democracy and it contains some obvious didactic elements (Estrada, 2004). It intends to explain the development of the transition from a “sweetened” point of view (Corbalán, 2009: 341).
The current work has been designed in order to reach the following objectives:
In order to analyze the series we will use a method based on social, geographical and human dimensions. For this purpose we take as reference the methodology shown in the book “The popular television fiction” by García de Castro (2002). By the use of this methodology we intend to study the main roles of the characters in a historical and geographical series moment in Spain in selected chapters of the series. We base our analysis on four main points:
Familial relationships form the story of this series. Domestic space is the center of the familiar scene. This space represents the identity of the family and reaffirms its cultural symbolism. Home is the external view of the family with a strong symbolism where they develop their family activities. Some storylines take place entirely within the family home/this space.
Thus, domestic space shows values based on the local culture and the character of people. The family relationships are based on paternity, maternity, intergenerational ties, restoration of the family and partner relationships. The families live in an environment of coexistence and social crisis, with a high risk of rupture. The traditional families are represented within standardized routines and stereotyped wishes of the Spanish families of this time in history.
We analyze the following characteristics of this point: kind of home, emblematic places, family crisis and family stability, the roles played in the home by each member and generational and historical conflicts.
High school or schools in general are daily meeting places and the center of formal and relational situations with peers outside of the family. In the student and work environment, the series protagonists have their personal relationships. So these scenarios are presented as the ideal surroundings for frames like sex, affection or friendship.
In Cuéntame cómo pasó three quarters of the story happens within the family home, and the rest around the social or occupational issues of the protagonists. We analyze the following characteristics on this point: work and studies as vocation and obligation, the horizontal and vertical relationships, the frames that occur in the workplace, high school or school and the cultural and historical stories.
Streets, parks, bars and cafes make the most common fixed sets of leisure and social life of the series. In their scenarios the characters maintain informal relations after working hours or at different times of the day. They are relational spaces that enable the evolution of personal situations, sometimes derived from other professional relationships. Following the study of Cassetti and di Chio (1999) in "Analysis of television" this space has its evolution with the series, because it is more than a location where the characters meet. We analyze the following characteristics on this point: informal spaces as means of creating story patterns, peer relationships and the historical and cultural issues.
Society in Spain has put TV and television series in the construction of the collective imagination. The series build the images of people´s recent memory, facilitating and adjusting the past to the needs of the new situation. The audience has these pedagogical requirements and the series engage this in their stories. Because of these requirements from the audiences, the series produced pedagogical information to conduct personal and moral teaching. Moreover, the series tell the historical course of time. We analyze the following characteristics on this point: representation of the recent historical past, the teaching vocation, and social, political and economic representations of the past.
4.1. Genre and format
In the analysis of the episodes it was found that the format of the series is adjusted to so-called American dramedy. It is a hybrid genre between drama and comedy. But being a Spanish series, the format has characteristics of its own:
- The duration of the series is longer than the typical American dramedy. The series runs for 90 minutes with advertisements, and 60 minutes without. This is due to the demands of the Spanish audiovisual market: the show/episode is divided into three parts by the advert breaks.
- The format of the series is in many situations a film format. By adopting its narrative features, the series remains a common thread that link to the episodes.
- Humor and Drama are linked, and present other conflicts of easy recognition by all kinds of audiences. E. g. the dramatic story based on a veteran in the Spanish Civil War with the comic characters of this period represented by the children.
- Cuéntame cómo pasó is a serie de época (period drama) which recounts what happened in Spain from the point of view of one of its main characters. The series was developed in 1968, during the last years of Franco´s regime.
The series has maintained the same structure throughout all seasons:
- All episodes last approximately 60 minutes.
- In every chapter there is the main and continuing plot of the series and others that are auto-conclusive. E. g. the arrival of television in Spanish households, the January sales or the Civil War veteran.
- The main frame is maintained throughout the series. So, the bible of the series ( the book which reflects the tone, subject, format and design of characters) is kept constant during all seasons. It is enriched with the arrival and departure of new characters: e. g. the arrival of new family members.
- The structure of the series is very complex: the flashbacks, real images and the inclusion of fictional characters through real images of the era (e. g. images of Mercedes and Herminia in the Cortefiel).
- The concept of continuity of the series. When the action takes place during working hours, each character has to be in his usual occupation: Antonio is working in the morning at the ministry, Toni is at college, Inés at the hairdressers, Carlos at school and Mercedes doing housework.
The plot of the series revolves around a middle class family in Spain in the late 1960´s, 1970´s and 1980´s. The episodes are narrated by the voice of Carlos, the youngest of three children, from his adult perspective. The series ends at the end of the Spanish political transition and the beginning of democracy. Thus, it is a historical review of all historical events that occurred during this time seen from the perspective of the Alcántara family.
- Carlos tells the story in a humorous and informative tone. Despite being the narrator, he is not the main character in the series. He captures his point of view of different situations and how he lived through them. His didactic character usually appears at the end of each chapter that encourages the viewer to reflect on what happened (for example at the end of the first chapter he reflects on the importance of television for the Europeanization of Spain).
- The plot is based on the realities of contemporary Spain: the conflicts between "development and freedom" of the late 1960´s and the rise of big construction companies and urban development; the big changes in the cities produced a rapid growth; problems with gambling; or the sentimental situations produced by new freedoms.
4.4. Scenarios and environments
- The Alcántara family home is the place where you can breathe the atmosphere of a Spanish family of the time: the living room of the apartment of the Alcántara family is the "social" sphere where they maintain relationships with the family and close friends. Also in the apartment we find the bedroom where Antonio and Mercedes talk about the future of the family.
- The different aspects developed at home have continuity on the stairs and in the corridor because neighbors take part in many family decisions: for example the relationship of Inés with her ??boyfriend, when they kiss in the hallway.
- The garden and the street is the meeting point of the family with other friends and neighbors. We find the street or the small square facing the apartment of the Alcántara’s, where they cross roads with many characters. There is the kiosk of el Cervan. A little further away is the garden, where Carlos meets with friends (place of assembly and privacy).
- The bar is the typical neighborhood bar where Anthony meets with friends after work. They talk about everyday topics such as football, society and politics. But they talk about politics with certain characteristics defined by the environment of Franco’s dictatorship.
- The church is a scenario that represents the mentality of Spanish society.
- The school, print shop and hairdresser´s shop: the school appears as a simple classroom where Carlitos studies. The print shop is where Antonio has his second job, where he works a lot for very little money. The hairdresser´s shop is where Inés works, where they talk about the neighbors.
- The novelty introduced by this series in Spain is the appearance of specific scenarios to contextualize some frames: The garage where Toni, his girlfriend and other friends prepare political pamphlets.
- The virtual scenarios. These are real videos where the fictional characters act. They give consistency and realism to the story.
4.5. Realization and production
The realization is based on a multiframe structure, where plots are continuous. In the episodes analyzed there are always several frames in which each member of the family keeps parallel to the others: Antonio tries to make more money; Carlitos´s idea to win some money with his friends; or Toni´s project for secret plans against Franco’s regime.
- Soundtracks, environments and effects are also of great importance: for example in the Eurovision song contest (Festival de Eurovisión).
- Most complex is the union of the fictional images with real time (flashbacks) and insertion of fictional characters in the videos. Information of the series time appears through short videos interspersed with the plots, which are usually narrated by the voice and news coming through radio and television.
4.6. Themes and plots
Based on the argument, the series may seem like a typical family story where the plots are developed through the daily family conflict. But Cuéntame cómo pasó is more complex. The plots are motivated by current issues like abortion, divorce, the situation of women, relationships between men and women, the role of the church in society and politics of the regime.
- Fiction takes place within a real context: All frames and themes of the series are based on real events such as the entry of new laws, problems with the rights of people, culture and changes of mentality at the time, etc.
- The series is a historical review of the 1970s in Spain. The series´ approach is based on a conciliatory view, nostalgic and instructive: In every chapter the voice maintains an educational and reflective character. In many cases it even makes the point of nostalgic humor: for example when Carlos reads a Federico García Lorca’s poem in favor of freedom on the radio.
- People are able to check a stereotyped version of Spain’s recent past. Nowadays young Spanish people do not remember many things about the recent past where their parents and grandparents lived. The series helps them to remember and understand the social context in which democracy did not exist, Spaniards could not vote, women had little rights, it was necessary to have different jobs and young people began with riots and strikes.
The Alcántara family has 6 members. The grandmother, the two parents and three children (later in the series there will be modifications).
- The main characters are always in the series and maintain their role at all times. The series is designed for all kinds of audiences, and the characters maintain their plots and histories. These characters are well studied in order to have maximum influence on the public because the series is broadcast during prime time television and needs to meet certain requirements to continue on air.
The series conveys the historical period of Spanish transition, but implies that it is not exclusively interested in this historic moment because it is also important for the evaluation carried out from now on the part of viewers. This can be seen in the contemporary perspective of Carlitos that opens and closes the episodes recalling the past with nostalgia, condescension and complacency. Carlos tells us how it happened, how society changed in the 1960s and 1970s where he lived. The series follows the life of Alcántara’s and the historical process (economic, social, political and cultural time). According to the British historian Charles Powell, we can say that the series claimed "the consolidation for the first time in contemporary history of Spain, of a legitimate political system, stable and effective".(2)
The series extends itself to the daily lives of the protagonists and does not have any other explicit purpose. It shows a conciliatory and idealizing vision of the recent past, when the dictatorship ended. The viewers can understand the development of some social (denial of the rights of women and youth, prohibitive laws, influence of the church in society, etc.) political, (the totalitarian regime, the prohibition of political parties, the isolation from the rest of Europe, etc.) and economic problems (need of multiple jobs, unemployment, emigration, etc.).
Cuéntame cómo pasó can be classified as a “familiar comedy”, a broadcasting genre which has its origins at the end of the sixties in the United States. It belongs to a specific genre called “dramedy”– a synthesis between drama and comedy. In dramedic series storytellers mix humoristic situations with stylized versions of social plots. The combination of both (social and humoristic situations) blurs the limits between fiction and non-fictional documents and it presents a visual representation of a central point of view. That central tendency is reinforced by the role played by a determined family and its scenarios, actions, values and thoughts. Through the use of the voice-over of the starring the series eliminates the possibilities of a historical speech: it configures a sentimental speech (Carlos talks from the present about his adolescence) which simulates a historical interpretation. Moreover it is an example of a falsification of the past: the main character focuses his story in the description of a general context. He should have just portrayed his personal emotions or even the emotions of his family but the continuous allusions to the historical plots transform the individual memories into collective ones.
The narrative model of Cuéntame cómo pasó stresses a general tone of nostalgia and apparent sincerity. The serie shows this empathy as key forms of identification in television evocative story and ways of approaching to different audiences (Rueda y Guerra, 2009). It aims an ideological context which draws a mythical image of the tradition. There is a trial to stratify some of the sociological tendencies of the period by the composition of the stereotypes of the main characters. It is not by chance that the conflicts happen when someone alters his position inside of a strong hierarchical relation. The idea is to strengthen the necessity of union; union, in first place, between the members of the family. But the family, in second place, is the symbol of union between the different actors who made possible the development of the Spanish transition.
Television fiction is commonly used as a didactic representation to explain the reality to the mass. In the case of Cuéntame cómo pasó it supposes the symbolic culmination of the democratization undertaken by elites during the political transition. The series tends to simplify the historical background, silencing some of the negative aspects, and idealizes the positive ones in order to establish a consensus about the development of the process. That consensus reflects in the broadcasting media the institutional and journalistic consensus due to keep the social stability of the new political system. It emphasizes the lack of transparency of the Spanish democracy: even in 21st century mainstream television rejects the composition of an objective discourse, and it has to adopt a fictional strategy to shed the light on a controversial epoch.
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1. Eduardo Haro Tecglen (Pozuelo de Alarcón, Madrid, June 30, 1924 - Madrid, 19 October 2005) was a Spanish journalist and essayist.
2. Linz, J. J.; Jerez, M. and Corzo, S. (2001): Ministers and Regimes in Spain: From First to Second Restoration, 1874-2001. Center for European Studies Working, Paper No. 101.
Cómo citar: Oller-Alonso, Martín y Barredo-Ibañez, Daniel. (2012). “ Nostalgic representation of reality in television fiction: an empirical study based on the analysis of the Spanish television series Cuéntame cómo pasó. ”, en Revista Mediterránea de comunicación, 3, n. 2, 128-142. Retrieved on ______th of_______ of_______ (link)