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PBS Toon Targets Bilingual Latinos

10/05/2003 08:00:00 PM Eastern

The blurring line between Hispanic and Anglo programming will get a little more vague next fall when PBS premieres an animated sitcom for children. The Misadventures of Maya and Miguel will air in English but will be aimed at Spanish-speaking kids and their parents.

Although PBS has had plenty of kids shows with Hispanic characters, this is its first cartoon aimed specifically at Hispanics.

Scholastic Entertainment will produce 65 episodes of Maya and Miguel, designed for 6- to 8-year-olds and intended not to teach them English but to make them more "comfortable" with being bilingual, said Scholastic President Deborah Forte. It will provide Spanish on an SAP channel, mainly for parents who may not know enough English to understand the on-air version.

That blending is becoming common. Telemundo premiered two telenovelas this fall that are closed-captioned in English, and Telemundo is promoted during NBC shows.

The Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies recently released a study that shows Hispanics 18-34 consume Anglo and Hispanic media at about the same rate but young Hispanics tend to gravitate more toward Spanish-speaking fare than those in older demos.

To make Maya and Miguel, Scholastic won Corporation for Public Broadcasting's largest grant ever, $9.2 million. With extra money from the U.S. Department of Education and PBS, the show is funded at $14 million, and Forte will soon begin looking for corporate underwriters to keep it going long enough to sell it internationally.

"Hopefully, [viewers will] come away with an appreciation that people do speak two languages and that it's great to be bilingual," she said. But Scholastic is careful not to push the good-for-you bit too far. "If the educational component is too transparent, no one is going to watch." Indeed, she said the cartoon borrows from TV's past: In I Love Lucy,
there were jokes about Ricky's mangled use of English. In Maya and Miguel, there's a character who likewise hasn't learned the language's fine points.


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