Networks Have an Ear for Spanish

Meg James, Los Angeles Times, Sept. 11

In ABC’s new sitcom “Freddie,” one of the main characters—Freddie Prinze Jr.’s Puerto Rican grandmother—speaks only Spanish. The show, which premieres in October, will use subtitles to translate her words.

In “Go, Diego, Go!,” a Nickelodeon cartoon that premiered last week, the hero is a brown-skinned bilingual boy who lives in a rain forest and teaches viewers to say “cuidado” (be careful) and “al rescate” (to the rescue).

And to lend authenticity to UPN’s upcoming prime-time soap, “South Beach,” some scenes are being shot entirely en español. Subtitles will be sprinkled throughout the midseason offering, which Jennifer Lopez’s production company is shooting on location in Miami.

Not so long ago, the only Spanish that most people heard on television came during reruns of “I Love Lucy,” when Ricky Ricardo went on a tear.

But as Latinos become the largest minority group in the U.S., representing an estimated $700 billion a year in buying power, media companies and advertisers are scrambling to figure out how to appeal to them.

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“Freddie,” meanwhile, is a far cry from “Chico and the Man”—the 1970s sitcom starring Prinze’s late father as a worker in an auto mechanic’s shop who slept in a beat-up truck. In “Freddie,” Prinze plays a successful chef who lives in a spacious Chicago loft.

Instead of tangling with an old grumpy white boss, as his father did, Prinze interacts primarily with four female relatives. The show is full of Latin cultural references, including an “evil eater” icon nailed over the door to chase away bad spirits.

Bassell of the Bravo Group predicts that if handled deftly, such themes could appeal not just to Latinos, but to young people of all ethnicities “who’ve been shaped by an American pop culture today that increasingly proves that color is cool and white is washed out.”

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