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Network TV is picking up a little español

May 15, 2011
By Johnny Diaz

On a recent episode of NBC comedy “30 Rock,’’ Tina Fey’s character held up a book called “Learn Spanish’’ and declared that she would finally learn the language. Later on, as Fey’s character performed community service in a park, she shouted in her novice Spanish, “Estoy hablando con mi amigo!’’

On the CBS legal drama “The Good Wife,’’ America Ferrera’s character recently translated for lawyers during a teleconference call with a fictional Venezuelan president. Viewers followed along with the help of subtitles.

And on ABC’s “Modern Family,’’ actor Sofia Vergara regularly rolls her “r’’s and improvises lines with her native Spanish.

Some of the more popular English-language prime-time network shows this season have declared, “hablamos español!’’

As Latinos have grown into the largest minority in the United States (new census figures report that one in six Americans are Latino), so has the amount of Spanish on television shows trying to appeal to this growing TV audience.

After Mexico, the United States is the world’s second-largest Spanish-speaking country. As the language becomes more widely used in everyday conversation among Americans, Spanish is also becoming more commonly spoken on the networks.

Viewers aren’t just hearing small phrases such as “que sorpresa’’ or “hola amigo!’’ Show writers create dialogue in complete Spanish sentences featured in subtitles or sometimes not translated at all.

“The writers are cognizant of the fact there is a growing Hispanic audience out there. It’s reality,’’ said Alex Nogales, president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit advocacy group that has been pushing the networks to elevate the presence of Latinos on their programs.

Each year, the group reports on the number of Latinos on- and off-camera as actors and writers. Last season, the four major networks had a total of 48 Latino actors as regulars on prime-time shows — almost double the number from 10 years ago.

So as the actors better reflect the US population, they are speaking like them, too.

“The writers are reflecting what they see,’’ said Nogales.

His group hosts an annual TV writers program, cosponsored by ABC and NBC, to help develop Latino writers for current and future shows. Participants spend five weeks producing a script for one half-hour comedy or a one-hour drama in English. So far, more than 15 graduates have landed writing jobs on network shows such as ABC’s “Brothers & Sisters’’ and CBS’s “Criminal Minds.’’

Nogales said that’s helping the networks add a Latino sensibility to their programs.

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