Silencio, no more! Finally, Spanishdominant U.S. TV time has come as the language pendulum has steadily swung in that linguistic direction. V-me1 is a spanking brand new national network marriage with public TV, wedding quality programming in Spanish with the proven PBS format. Just unleashed nationwide, V-me is aimed towards educating and entertaining America’s 38 million Spanish speaking viewers. If you have not figured it out yet, “veme” is a play on words commanding the viewer to “watch me.” V-me is an epoch making language broadcast now bursting forth onto U.S. airwaves and designed to level the learning field for native Spanish speakers seeking access to the American Dream. In this land increasingly divided by Spanish and English, tragically along such uneven lines, V-me will allow equal access for all to educationally-based programming. Indeed, V-me’s promise is the promise of the American dream for all. Recently, the Miami kickoff of V-me was replete with the flavor of this varied language
salad. V-me was indeed Miami, heralding America’s newest Spanish network, now partnering with local Public Television’s WPBT. There was a heady sense of history-in-themaking in this watershed media launch of Vme: smoothly operating coast to coast in March 2007. Fittingly, Miami’s WPBT itself was birthed by the nationwide launch of ¿Que Pasa, USA? (What’s Going on USA?”), the comic bilingual sitcom that scintillated the airways for nearly a decade and taught countless newcomers Basic English and culture. Que Pasa, USA? was the brainchild of Miami Dade College, the veritable belly-button ministering to the immigrant phenomena of the Mariel boatlift, the first of a newcomer flow, now rippling across America from shore to shore. So now WPBT’s chairman of the board, Robert K. Jordan, spelled out in unison with President and CEO Rick Schneider: “This will be B-I-G” in stitching together diverse linguistic communities. America now has the option of quality Spanish language-based programming in the
form of V-me. “The name speaks volumes,” states Mario Baeza, as founder and executive chairman of V-me, who goes on to say, “Latinos contribute so much to our country, yet quality programming is sorely missing from the landscape.” However, that American landscape is now being metamorphosized and millions of those seeking quality broadcasting, in lieu of merely imported Columbian or Mexican-produced telenovelas (soap operas), of perhaps dubitable educational merit, can now choose quality Spanish broadcasts in America for the first time in history. Finally, the compassionate side of the typically commercial-laden media outlets is evolving, so millions of viewers get what they desperately want and need: quality programs, paralleling Public Broadcasting’s thoroughbred pedigree, in Spanish. So the good news is that 38 million U.S. Latinos now have a new network and media community, reaching 60 percent of all U.S. Hispanic households. And V-me indeed rocks as it educates youth, inspires community, and
Steven Donahue reports on the arrival of a Spanish Language Public Broadcasting Service
A Latin Network is Born
entertains all with a growing content collection of popular public television broadcasting programs tailored around the needs of America’s Latinos; hitherto, a sorely underserved market. V-me offers five primary genres: Children, Lifestyle, Factual, Movies, and Specials. Basically, V-me Media, Inc. is a group seeking to create and distribute the best quality content for Hispanics in the U.S. and abroad. The company is a agglomeration of partnerships: the PBS flagship, Channel Thirteen/WNET New York; KCET in Los Angeles; and supported initially by a group of private investors led by the Baeza Group and Syncom funds. Presently, V-me hits 60 percent of all US Hispanic homes, saturating markets in: New York, Miami, Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago, San Francisco, San Antonio, Albuquerque/Santa Fe, San Diego, Sacramento, Fresno, Denver, Tucson, and Orlando. Near term, V-me expects to broaden to 50 million homes in early 2008. Content is both key and king at V-me. And we are talking of homegrown U.S. content
with a Latin spin, as well. Luis Duno-Gottberg, the Director of Caribbean and Latin American Studies at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) organizes an annual thematically-based film festival showcasing a different country. This year, is “The Year of Mexico,” he proudly notes. Not only might such stellar content be made available, but Duno-Gottberg said there is a growing need to educate producers on how to create public television-quality documentaries — en español. Duno-Gottberg works closely with FAU’s Susan Smith Reilly at the School of Communication and Multimedia Studies; thus, supporting the local/regional and community-constructing flavor of the V-me concept coupled with the American “Can Do” spirit. Miami is among 15 public broadcast networks that are now offering V-me to upwards of 38 million Spanish-speaking viewers. And Miami, like many places, has seen a decline in interest in the traditional fine arts as the number of cable channels has gone exponential. V-me promises to be a focusing lens that may
bode well for the reviving of some dormant and emerging arts before they expire. Karen County is on a mission to boost the buzz about the Pedro Pablo Pena Miami Ballet Festival, which recently acquired the Jackie Gleason theater as a possible glamorous broadcasting V-me backdrop. County, and a cohort of other bilingual “edutainment” activists, appraise V-me as an opportunity, the right medicine, at the right time, for the ailing arts in immigrant-swamped communities all across the Purple Plains. Miami public station’s Jordan and Schneider explained that they intend to keep, “the rhythm of public television,” pulsing throughout the V-me stream, whether it be the Nightly Business Report or other high quality shows. They explained that one standard and one digital channel will be committed exclusively to V-me, and that the penetration will be deep in this and other majority Hispanic markets. The sense of community building is sharply in the cross-hairs of V-me’s President, Carmen
DiRienzo, who convincingly opined, “Vme provides intelligent entertainment that explores interests and issues Hispanics Rick Schneider share with all Americans, and connects many diverse Latino communities across the country.” Carmen DiRienzo, foretold of a partnering arrangement for English as a Second Language (ESOL) as an upcoming V-me offering. “We are developing programming across the spectrum of the needs of the Hispanic community,” she said. Still, some of that developmental stuff was evident at the kickoff event. For instance, the Creative Arts Center in collaboration with Miami Dade College presents such classic plays as The Old Man and the Sea and The Glass Menagerie — en español: but now the Latin audience could promise to bloom a thousand-fold. Content from non-Spanish language sources will be customized by re-versioning it with Spanish-speaking hosts in order to make its message hit an “edutainment” homerun with U.S. Hispanics. The man in charge of content is Guillermo Sierra, who spoke to the packed crowd at the launch of the new-born media syndicate and said, “Miami is the hub because it is the intersection of South America, Europe, and the United States.” Content-man Sierra’s passion for educating children is highly evident. “At a time when there is so much about the quantity and quality of children’s television in mainstream Spanish media, V-me is proud to be the first national network devoting its entire kid’s programming offer to world-class educational pre-school content,” he passionately voiced. John Begert, V-me’s marketing and branding point man, elaborated that V-me is available on KCET in Los Angeles, and that the roster will be expanding quite rapidly. He quipped, “This is going to be an international phenomena.” So you want choices? V-me’s primetime program is heralded by Viva Voz, which con-
tains a nightly repertoire of hosts commenting about current affairs and social issues. Rotating hosts will include such luminaries as Jorge Gestoso, an Uruguayan-born journalist; Leona Krauze, a renowned Mexican author; and Cuban born Rafael Pi Roman, the Emmy award-winning anchor. The constellation of guests includes Oscar-nominated actress Adriana Barraz, Salsa star India, and Jose Miguel Insulza, the secretary general of the Organization of American States. And an ensuing galaxy of other movers and shakers will have V-me buzzing with a new, accented voice Robert K. Jordan across America. V-me’s programming is categorized into children, lifestyle, and movies/specials. The Kids segment combines growing and playing by providing pre-school programming thirtysix hours a week, including Jime de la Luna/Lunar Jim; Las Tres Mellizas Bebes/The Baby Triplets; Los Pies Magicos de Franny/ Franny’s Feet; and Connie La Vaquita/Connie the Cow. The offering is rounded out with the Spanish speaking counterpart of Sesame Street — Plaza Sesamo which delights children with unforgettable characters that, coincidentally, reinforce basic math and verbal concepts. In brief, Spanish-speaking children now have access to a booster shot of background knowledge so vital to ultimate school success. Moreover, a plethora of studies have shown an inclination among English-speaking Americans to become bilingual. V-me brings them hope of becoming more bilingual, especially in the early pre-school years, with its access to quality sub-titled programming. The lifestyle line up is not neglected on V-me — it encompasses high interest content devoted to health, parenting, nutrition, family, and food. Aire Yoga is a V-me original series starring Anna Silvetta and filmed in lush, tropical locations in Miami. Los Ninos en su Casa, the
Peabody Award-winning KCET Los Angeles series, focuses on the first five years of life. Multiculturalism Virtual travel around the globe revolves around Una Miranda a (Visions of) with destinations including Italy, Greece, London, Puerto Rico and a clutch more places to come. Carmen DiRienzo ebulliently voices of V-me, “It speaks with many accents as it cuts across family, home, politics, and entertainment. With its movie menu, V-me has not limited its agenda but will include Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, French, and Catalan films.” “Public television exists to serve the American public, and Latinos and Spanishspeakers are an increasingly significant part of that public. With V-me, public broadcasters are able to fulfill their mission and serve this vitally important new audience,” says William F. Baker, chief executive, Educational Broadcasting Corporation. “An endeavor this significant could not be created by public broadcasters or private investors alone. Through this unique partnership, public television brings hundreds of hours of high-quality, exclusive programming to America’s Latino families.” Ultimately, V-me is not either a Spanish nor an English proposition, but rather a cross-cultural embrace. V-me is a step to improving communicationn, and helps promote equal access for informational and educational content. So in this Carmen Dirienzo cherished melting pot, called America, though we may not be speaking exactly the same language, at least we are offered the benefit of being equally informed. And that is what community building is all about, and in this case, it is clearly spelled “V-E-M-E” (“watch me”) from Rosita the Latino Puppet to Salsa star India, America now has a new pluralistic voice.
Steven Donahue is features editor for Language Magazine.