Television critics should start taking Spanish lessons.
Univision's ratings are too strong to ignore. More so during the summer when the English-language networks air reruns and reality shows. Meanwhile, Univision keeps running new telenovela episodes and major soccer competitions. The good news is that it doesn't take much Spanish to follow the basic plot of a telenovela and just one word, goooooooooooool!, suffices to follow a soccer match on Univision.
One columnist seems to already be taking lessons:
"Dieciocho (that's 18) producciones en español beat Fox's movie-maker competition dud On the Lot, stolen from HBO's Project Greenlight."
And another keeps half-seriously asserting that Univision will surpass NBC's ratings. I have my doubts but it could happen.
Newspaper reporters on the television beat seem to relish citing ratings data that show Univision beating one of the Big Four in a given time slot. It is a way of saying to ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox - 'your programs are so lame that even Univision is being watched by more viewers'.
But television beat reporters rarely go beyond ratings data when it comes to Univision. And coverage of telenovelas, the most-popular program genre on Spanish-language television, often reads like a smackdown:
"Hey, remember all those stories about how American TV viewers were finally read to embrace telenovelas? April Fool! They hated a daily schedule of novelas, so much so that MyNetworkTV has officially abandoned them."
Or coolly dismissive, as in the NYT's "Sizzling a Year Ago, but Now Pfffft ..."
"The telenovela, the steamy low-budget soap opera genre that has become the staple of television programming in Spanish-speaking countries, lives on its sudden bursts of uncontrollable — and loudly acted — passion.
Maybe that was what was burning in the hearts of network executives in New York about this time last year when, seemingly out of the blue, many of them announced a rush to begin developing a new form of programming for the summer: the American telenovela."
If nothing else, speaking Spanish would help beat reporters better cover Ben Silverman's programming announcements and not fall for inaccurate translations such as "Without breasts there is no paradise" ("No Tits, No glory" is a much more accurate translation of "Sin tetas no hay paraiso".)
For instance, the Univision O&O in Los Angeles has the highest rated local newscast in any language. Last month, news director Jorge Mettey left the station and there was no mention of this fact in the LAT. I can´t imagine the departure (or firing or whatever else it was) of the news director of the lower-rated KABC, KCBS, KNBC or KTLA going unnoticed and unreported by the Los Angeles Times. Considering the LAT's stated interest in attracting readers then it makes sense for the paper to do a better job of covering Spanish-language television and English-language television for Latinos.
I wish more reporters would do as Robert Feder of the Chicago Sun-Times and consistently cover the goings on at local Spanish-language television stations.
I obviously understand many beat reporters and critics face a language barrier. I am also obviously aware that Spanish-language television is, well, in Spanish and thus of limited interested to many readers. But, newspaper music critics routinely review Latin music and concerts. As a consumer of Latin music, I and many others benefit from reading what the LAT´s Agustín Gurza writes about Antonio Aguilar, Isaac Delgado and others. Why? Because even though I speak English I listen to music in Spanish. Not exclusively but plenty of it. Likewise, and like many Latinos, I watch both English-language and Spanish-language television.
I want to read what the many fine television critics in the land have to say about the programming on Univision and Telemundo and Telefutura and Azteca America. (Yes, they each air more than just telenovelas.)
I find it amusing that the best newspaper coverage of Univision is produced by business reporters. (Read the work of Christina Hoag in the Miami Herald,
Meg James in the LAT and Miriam Jordan in the WSJ.) I think such strong business coverage is great. However, in the absence of equally good criticism of programming, the unstated message is newspapers
think Hispanics are more important as consumers than viewers.
Maybe the Television Critics Association can negotiate a group discount at Berlitz.