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“Brokenhearted,” “really upset, “depressing” — those are some of the words Latino viewers used in conversations with TODAY to describe how they felt when their favorite Latino-led shows were canceled, often after one season.
The phenomenon goes back through the years, including Cristela Alonzo’s barrier-breaking ABC sitcom “Cristela,” which was axed after just one season in 2014. In the last 12 months, Latino shows like HBO Max’s “Gordita Chronicles,” Netflix’s “Gentefied,” and ABC’s “Promised Land” have all been canceled with under 20 episodes to their credit.
The reactions from fans could seem over the top — it is just TV, after all — but when put in the context of the ongoing conversation around the lack of media representation for Latino communities, the frustration makes sense.
Mexican American mother and community advocate Jasmine Uribe put it plainly in a conversation with TODAY: “I question a lot about representation and worth. Our stories matter. But when they take them away, I’m like, ‘Do our stories really matter? Is it just the small group of us who care about (us) and nobody else does?’”
From San Antonio, Texas, single mom and small business owner Stacey Avery also sees the cancelations of Latino shows as a sign that the powers-that-be in entertainment — the decision makers, executives, and number crunchers — don’t value or understand her and her world. “They don’t keep in touch with what’s really going on in our society, in our communities. They don’t take us seriously enough,” she said.
And yet, according to a recent report by The Latino Donor Collaborative (LDC), the U.S. Latino audience “brings 20 to 30% of the entertainment industry’s revenue,” depending on the platform, and “more than 50% of the growth.” According to Nielsen, Latino viewers are powering the streaming wars, making up an oversized percentage of the audience, particularly among the most popular shows.
Still, Latino representation on screen is vastly lower than in the general population — we’re talking about a community that is about one in five Americans getting less than 3.5% of leading roles, ensemble parts, or roles as showrunners and directors this year, according to LDC. And when shows centering on Latino stories do get made, they're not on the air for long.
Actor, advocate and producer Eva Longoria recently told TODAY, “It is so disheartening when you do everything right and still fail.” She recently served as executive producer for HBO Max’s “Gordita Chronicles,” which got canceled after just one season.
Longoria said the show was “the third most watched comedy on HBO Max, written by two leading Latino showrunners, produced by Zoe Saldaña, directed by Eva Longoria, 98% on Rotten Tomatoes. What more do you want?”
And that’s not just an insider question. Hollywood’s penchant for canceling popular shows has viewers confused, with Uribe asking, “What is your marker for success? You’re not coming to the communities and hearing how much it matters.”
These shows are singing to Latino viewers, something that appears not to matter to the executives making the decisions. Avery, who is of Mexican and Puerto Rican descent, loved “Gordita Chronicles,” recommending it to all of her Latina clients, even after it was canceled. “I connected with the show entirely. I felt like those characters, those could be my peers, and those could be my cousins.”
But it wasn’t enough.
Community-based shows are frequently canceled. HBO said they canceled “Gordita Chronicles” because they are moving away from live-action kids and family programming entirely, something Longoria told TODAY “doesn’t make sense. When you say we’re getting out of family programming, you’re basically saying we’re getting out of Latinx programming, because Latinx programming is family programming.”
Lissete Lanuza Sáenz, TV critic, Panamanian American and editor-in-chief of the fandom site Fangirlish, said she expects cancelations for “the shows (that) are specifically about our communities,” she said, citing the canceled shows “One Day at A Time,” “Gentefied,” “Gordita Chronicles,” “Diary of a Future President,” “Cristela,” the “Party of Five” remake and “The Baker and the Beauty” as having “a hard path to climb.”
“I was super shocked ‘With Love’ (an anthology series on Amazon Prime) got a second season… I loved it but I thought, ‘This is dead. The Latino family was gonna kill it,’” she said.
Lanuza Sáenz notes that “family shows, in general, don’t have the same kind of fandom” as procedurals or sci-fi and fantasy. Instead, theirs “is the kind of fandom that builds. Like ‘Modern Family,’ after 10 years you have a fandom. But (Latinx shows) don’t have time to build a fandom — they get canceled.”
It’s worth noting that by the final season of “Modern Family,” Latina actress and cast member Sofía Vergara was the highest-earning woman in Hollywood. But her role as Gloria was seen by many as stereotypical — the show poked fun at her Colombian accent and positioned her as a hot-tempered sexpot.
Regardless, Gloria was just one member of a large ensemble and so “Modern Family” would not be classified as a “a Latino show.”
With relatively little representation, it’s especially frustrating for viewers and creators alike that the dollars — for production, talent, and marketing — appear to be fueling stereotypical depictions of Latino characters.
Driving around her native Los Angeles, Uribe notices that shows about “gangs get billboards and ‘Devious Maids’ got billboards... But if it’s a (family-friendly) show like ‘Ultra Violet & Black Scorpion’ or ‘One Day at a Time,” you don’t really see that marketing.”
“The general audience expects a stereotype,” said Lanuza Sáenz, and when “they’re not given the stereotype, they won’t watch. And then (the studios) are not marketing to the people who will watch without the stereotype — then no one’s watching.”
As examples, she cited how she hadn’t heard about “Gordita Chronicles” until after it came out — and she gets countless pitches for upcoming media properties and keeps an eye out for Latino content. She was also frustrated that “One Day At a Time” didn’t come up in her Netflix queue as recommended content, particularly when she tuned in from Panama.
However, at a 2019 Code Conference, former Netflix vice president of content Cindy Holland shared some insight on why “One Day At a Time” was canceled.
“The basic calculation is, how much viewing are we getting for what it costs? We also look at, is it reaching different audiences? Is it gaining critical acclaim? Is it doing something for us as a business that we like?,” she said. “We wouldn’t have renewed that show on a viewing-to-cost basis.”
Holland added that while the show “grew “a little bit” after it was renewed, “we just couldn’t find the broad audience we hoped it could get and it deserved to get. And so, after three seasons, we decided to end it.”
In the case of "Promised Land," the ABC show was pulled from the network after its fifth episode and streamed the rest of the first season on Hulu. The drama pulled in low ratings, steadily declining from 1.9 million to 1.5 million total viewers in its first four episodes, per TV Line. It was subsequently canceled. And while ABC's "Grand Hotel," starring Demian Bichir and Roselyn Sanchez, averaged "modest" ratings, Variety reported it "struggled to make an impact" and was also canceled.
So when shows like "Gentefied" and "Gordita Chronicles" come out, Twitter users called on one another to watch the show with the intention of boosting numbers.
Instead of marketing machines, Latino content too often has to rely on word of mouth to catch on among viewers. When the second season of “Gentefied” came out, Uribe “was anxious when it was not on the Top 10 on Netflix. I was texting people, ‘Can you just watch it? Because I don’t want them to cancel it,’” she recalled. “It almost feels like I’m carrying the weight for the community. When how many times have we been in that position for advocating for community wellness? That’s not fair.”
“Gentefied” was canceled shortly thereafter, late last year, with the consensus being not enough people even knew it was out. Indeed, it never broke into the streamer’s Top 10 chart.
“Gentefied” and “Flight Attendant” actor JJ Soria recently told TODAY, “I felt that they dropped the ball with how to promote (“Gentefied”). I think they should do a better job… If they’re really trying to be diverse, (then) they need to put those kind of trailers and stuff on their main channel.”
So how does the entertainment industry break this cycle?
Lanuza Sáenz has hope that Latino actors finally have the star power to make real change. She’s excited about Diego Luna helming Disney’s “Andor” and unapologetically bringing his Mexican accent with him into space in a way that validates and normalizes it, rather than poke fun.
From her work as an entertainment journalist, she hears how Latino actors are pushing for more and more authentic representation, whether it’s in getting character rewrites, forming their own production studios or muscling their way into big franchises.
There are also groups working across the entertainment industry to get more Latino voices in positions of power so Latinos can be the ones deciding which Latino shows continue and which do not.
In the meantime, the audience does have power. Avery is optimistic. Part of that is just her outlook, and part is the demographic change she sees in Texas and all across the United States, noting how Latinos are now the majority in the Lone Star State.
Avery believes there’s going to “come a time where we have the power, we have the control of what’s being shared about us, what’s being said about us, what’s being produced for us.”
But that doesn’t mean she’s not willing to fight for the representation she wants in the meantime. In fact, she has a warning for Hollywood: “We are the leading economic power in this country. So they better start paying attention. Because they don’t want us to start boycotting their shows. They don’t want us to start boycotting their movies.”
During Hispanic Heritage Month, TODAY is sharing the community’s history, pain, joy and pride. We are highlighting Hispanic trailblazers and rising voices. TODAY will be publishing personal essays, stories, videos and specials throughout the month of September and October. For more, head here.
This article was originally published on TODAY.com