"Stuck on Stereotypes"—TV And The Hispanic Tidal Wave

Why don't relatively smart, sophisticated network TV shows like multiple Emmy-winning Modern Family do well with the Hispanic audience? The answer, according to a variety of Latino activist and media types in the electronic rolodexes of New York Times reporters, is that Modern Family isn't smart and sophisticated enough to lure Latino audiences away from Spanish-language shows.

To find out, the New York Times interviewed various self-appointed spokespersons for the Hispanic Tidal Wave, such as

  • "the co-owner and chief operating officer of the advertising agency Zubi Advertising," 
  • the "founder of the Web site Latino Rebels," 
  • a "31-year-old Mexican-American documentary filmmaker," 
  • and "a senior vice president for development and production at Encanto Enterprises."

You can't get a much more statistically representative sample of the typical Hispanic than that (at least, among people who will instantly return Times' reporters calls and not tell them anything that might make them the slightest bit uncomfortable.)

Thus, they all told the NYT that the reason is because these shows like Modern Family are full of insensitive stereotypes about Hispanics and thus turn off the millions of culturally cutting edge Latino viewers who are annoyed by retrograde stereotyping of Hispanics (which by the way, I must add, could be solved just like that by hiring the people being quoted).

Thus, due to white racists who fail to perceive how sophisticated the burgeoning Latino audience is, Hispanics viewers just stick with watching Sabado Gigante, where they are sure to see a fat mestizo guy with a droopy Pancho Villa mustache and a giant sombrero leer at some dyed blonde spicy senorita and fall down. No stereotyping of Mexicans on Spanish language TV! (Or at least that's the logical implication of this article -- neither the reporters nor the sources for the article give any indication of ever having watched Spanish language programming.)
Stuck on Stereotypes

Networks Struggle to Appeal to Hispanics 

By TANZINA VEGA and BILL CARTER 

Sofia Vergara is probably the most recognizable Hispanic actress working in English-language television. She is one of the stars of “Modern Family,” the highest-rated scripted show on network television, and she has parlayed her celebrity into commercials for brands like Pepsi and Cover Girl. Sofia Vergara Doesn't Want To Be Stereotyped

Despite her popularity, “Modern Family” is not a hit with Hispanic viewers. Out of its overall viewership of 12.9 million, “Modern Family” drew an average of only about 798,000 Hispanic viewers in the season. That audience accounts for only about 6 percent of the show’s viewers — less than half of what you might expect given the 48 million Hispanic television viewers that Nielsen measures. ...

The numbers encapsulate the problem facing English-language television executives and advertisers: they desperately want to appeal to the more than 50 million Latinos in the United States (about three-quarters speak Spanish), especially those who are young, bilingual and bicultural, but those viewers seem to want very little to do with American English-language television. 

They do, however, continue to watch Spanish-language networks in huge numbers. 

In May, on the final night of the most recent season of “Modern Family,” far more Hispanic viewers were watching the top Spanish language show that week, the telenovela “La Que No Podía Amar,” on Univision, which attracted 5.2 million viewers. 

... The list of top English-language shows watched by Hispanics is headed by the same competition shows as among the total audience, with “Dancing With the Stars,” and “American Idol” faring best this spring, while “Sunday Night Football” was the leader in the fall. 

But the discrepancy between English and Spanish language shows is most acute among shows that are scripted in English. The issue, many viewers and critics argue, is that there still hasn’t been the Hispanic equivalent of “The Cosby Show,” meaning a show that deals with Latino culture in a way that doesn’t offend viewers with crude stereotypes. 

This winter, CBS hoped to have a cross-cultural hit with the show “Rob” featuring the comedian Rob Schneider. The show, based loosely on Mr. Schneider’s own life, showed his experiences of marrying into a Mexican family and the culture clashes that ensued. But the chief conflict ended up being between the show and its intended viewers. 

“Big family,” said Mr. Schneider’s character, when he meets his wife’s family for the first time. “Now I know what’s going on during all those siestas.” In another scene, the character Hector, played by Eugenio Derbez, tells Rob that he is visiting from Mexico. Then he gets closer to Rob and whispers, “I’m not leaving,” and after pausing for effect adds, “Ever.” 

For Joe Zubizarreta, the co-owner and chief operating officer of the advertising agency Zubi Advertising, with headquarters in Miami, the comedic devices used in “Rob” were too much. “They’ve used just about every stereotype they could in the pilot,” Mr. Zubizarreta said. “I understand that the general market taste will find humor in the idiosyncrasies of Hispanics. But as Hispanics, when we watch general market television, we’d like to see some semblance of reality to our lives.” 

For Julio Ricardo Varela, the founder of the Web site Latino Rebels, both the content of “Rob” and how it was marketed relied too much on stereotypes.


“ ‘Rob’ was a big running joke among our community,” Mr. Varela said. “It just felt lazy, stale and I think that mainstream television is missing the boat.” Mr. Varela noted a contest on the show’s Facebook page where viewers were invited to hit a virtual piñata to “whack and win” a trip to the show’s set. Also on the page were promotional images of Mr. Schneider and the rest of the cast in a conga line. “I thought the marketing was beyond ridiculous,” Mr. Varela said. 

Nina Tassler, the president for entertainment for CBS, declined to comment on “Rob” specifically, but said that reaching out to the Hispanic community was important for the network. (The network declined to pick up “Rob” for a second season.) 

“Everybody’s culture is wholly unique, so finding the storytelling language that can reach out and communicate with the biggest cross section of the Latin population is obviously what we are trying for,” said Ms. Tassler, who is the highest-ranking network television executive with a Hispanic heritage.

Here's Nina Tassler's background from Wikipedia.

Mr. Schneider declined to comment for this article.

Schneider is part Filipino. I've always found him funnier than his friend Adam Sandler, although perhaps that's not saying much.

Among the series that were in development for next season by English-language networks, one, an ABC show called “Devious Maids,” gained attention for its focus on a Latino stereotype — maids working in Beverly Hills. The show was being produced by Marc Cherry of “Desperate Housewives,” and had been based on a Spanish-language telenovela. 

When Liz Colunga, a 31-year-old Mexican-American documentary filmmaker heard about “Devious Maids” she wasn’t surprised at the show’s theme. “I’m used to watching stereotypical roles for Latinas and Latinos,” Ms. Colunga said. 

No character stirs more mixed emotions for Hispanic audiences that the one played by Ms. Vergara on “Modern Family.” She plays Gloria Delgado-Pritchett, a sexy Latina trophy wife whose persona has gotten mixed reviews from Latinos. 

“It’s working for her, but at what expense?” said Ms. Colunga, the filmmaker. “She’s playing the clueless Latina.” 

In a show where all of the characters are a bit extreme, the least stereotypical of all is Gloria’s smart-talking son Manny. Lynnette Ramirez, the senior vice president for development and production at Encanto Enterprises, a production company owned by George and Ann Lopez, said Gloria’s character works because she is tempered by her son. 

“Sofia’s character is a first generation Latina,” Ms. Ramirez said. “Manny’s going to grow up to be like Sara Ramirez’s character in ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ ” she added, a reference to the actress Sara Ramirez’s role as a doctor on the show.

Judging by who likes summer blockbuster movies the most, perhaps Modern Family could broaden their demographic appeal by adding a couple of fireball explosions to each episode.