TV Networks Experimenting With Bilingual Shows

Bilingual TV shows and networks have just begun popping up in the past few years. For some, it's important to serve the bilingual audience. For others, it seems unnecessary because bilingual people can already enjoy both Spanish and English-language shows.

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Some Spanish language TV networks are adding bilingual programs, new reality shows, kids' programming and dramas in both Spanish and English. That's in response to the growth of the Latino population, less by immigration than through babies born in the U.S. But as NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports, it's not clear if people who speak both languages want to watch bilingual TV.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: The new bilingual series "Mia Mundo" centers on the world - the mundo - of Mia Ramirez. She's a glamorous online entertainment magazine editor.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MIA MUNDO")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (as character) Hey, Mia.

JACQUELINE MARQUEZ: (as Mia) Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (as character) You're not late (foreign language spoken).

BARCO: And Steph, she's clearly one step ahead of Mia.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MIA MUNDO")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (as character) Go, you're all set. (Foreign language spoken)

MIMI BELT: This is a woman who's single, bilingual, completely bicultural, very tech savvy, not really in a hurry to get married, has a great career.

BARCO: Producer Mimi Belt says "Mia Mundo" is vying for new audiences. Telemundo.com is showing three-minute long webisodes, and the bilingual cable network mun2 airs weekly TV episodes. The cast borrows English-speaking actresses from another NBC-Universal property, Bravo, reality stars from "Interior Therapy" and "The Real Housewives of Orange County."

BELT: We decided to subtitle it for both the English-dominant and Spanish-dominant viewers to be able to see it. We were trying to cover all our bases there.

BARCO: It's mun2's latest experiment with bilingual programs. Last year, the network premiered "RPM Miami," a drama about the underground, nighttime racing scene. And running now is the second season of a reality show chronicling the frenetic family and professional life of singer Jenni Rivera.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "I LOVE JENNI")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) We all love Jenni, oh, Jenni. I love Jenni.

BARCO: "I love Jenni" now has a spinoff show with Rivera's daughter Chiquis. Living in L.A., the Riveras move easily in and out of Spanish and English. But Telemundo producer Belt says don't call it Spanglish.

BELT: We really cringe at that word because Spanglish is neither, in my view, English or Spanish. It is a distortion of both languages.

BARCO: Belt says what does not work in bilingual TV is having the characters say each line in both languages. That gets tedious.

BELT: If you're watching it and you understand both languages and you're getting direct translations of what the other character said in another language, you're going to lose people.

BARCO: This is something, Belt says, she learned while working on one of the first bilingual TV series: "Que Pasa USA," a 1970s PBS sitcom about a Cuban-American family.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "QUE PASA USA")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (as character) (Foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: (as character) Hey, don't look now, but someone's watching us.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (as character) I cannot (unintelligible).

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: (as character) It's (unintelligible).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (as character) (Foreign language spoken)

BARCO: For years, public television was the only place to find bilingual TV. Spanish language networks insisted on remaining monolingual. And mainstream English language networks also resisted the idea of going bilingual, except for "Dora."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DORA THE EXPLORER")

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (as character) Dora. Oh, come on, Dora.

BARCO: Nickelodeon's "Dora the Explorer" was a hit. And now, the producers of a new series for Comcast hope for the same kind of success with an even younger crowd.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW)

MARIO SOLIS-MARICH: It has to be entertaining. I mean, we're dealing with children that are 0 to 4.

BARCO: Mario Solis-Marich is talking about his new channel BabyFirst Americas. He says there's a boom in Latino babies born in the U.S. It's his chance to try hooking infants and toddlers into watching TV.

SOLIS-MARICH: This is a blue ocean strategy. We have no competition. What we're doing right now absolutely exists nowhere.

BARCO: It's too soon to know the ratings for the baby network. But youngish Latinos are not necessarily clamoring for bilingual TV.

LANCE RIOS: Right now, there's just so many options of content that I can go after. I can go after English. I can go after Spanish. I can go after bilingual.

BARCO: Twenty-eight-year-old Lance Rios runs the website Being Latino. As a second-generation New York-Puerto Rican, he can be choosy about his TV shows. He says he's more inclined to watch "Mad Men" in English than any telenovela in Spanish.

RIOS: You know, Spanish language television is not something that we watch at all. It was something for old people. You get the really extreme dramatic reaction to every little situation, and it's just like it's really hammed up. I don't watch it just because I am so used to just a certain level of quality when it comes to television programming overall.

BARCO: As for the new bilingual shows, Rios says he may give them a shot, but to keep his attention, they'll have to be better than anything else in English or Spanish on TV, cable, Netflix, Hulu, YouTube and on and on and on. Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.

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