After weeks of an aggressive media campaign promoting Lifetime's new series Devious Maids, followed by an almost equally aggressive backlash from cultural critics deriding the series' Latina stereotypes, the ratings for the first episode are in . . . and they are just okay. There is nothing to indicate Maids will be a breakout cable hit, like HBO's True Blood or AMC's The Walking Dead; it doesn't even seem likely the show will match the modest performance of another Lifetime offering, The Client List, which may or may not make it to a third season.
And so it would be easy to dismiss Devious Maids as just another average show -- except that, as its pre-premiere buzz proved, Devious Maids is anything but average. Not only does it star five Latina actresses -- which is unprecedented on English-language network or cable TV -- but it also boasts a Latina executive producer (Eva Longoria), a couple of Latina writers, and storylines aimed squarely at attracting a Hispanic audience.
Which means that right about now a bunch of TV executives are sitting around looking at Maids's middling debut and thinking about all the other Latino-themed shows over the last decade that have failed--shows like Rob, which had comedian Rob Schneider clashing with his Mexican-American in-laws; and Luis, which starred Puerto Rican comic Luis Guzmán; and Greetings from Tucson, featuring a Mexican-American family. And, based on my own extensive experience in the media industry, there's a good chance those TV executives are thinking something like this:
You see? We TRIED to reach Latinos! But they're not interested in Latino-themed shows, or Latino characters. And if they are, well, they can just keep on watching Univision or Telemundo instead, because we give up.
It's this attitude, this conversation -- this stereotype--that we should be most up in arms about. Because despite the fact that Latinos make up nearly 20% of the TV viewing audience, we account for only 3% of the characters seen on TV. And perhaps the biggest factor driving this underrepresentation is Hollywood's ongoing reluctance to consistently green-light programming that attracts, engages, and reflects the Latino audience--coupled with its ongoing insistence that a handful of shows that were aimed at the Latino audience and failed means no such show can ever be a hit.
Of course, Maids still may turn out to be a raging success; we're only one episode in, after all. My point is, when it comes to the future of Hispanic characters and storylines on American TV, it shouldn't matter if Devious Maids thrives or flops. For despite all the hype and the controversy surrounding Maids, it is, at its essence, just another show.
And if the day came when Hollywood executives actually looked at it that way? Well, now, that would be something truly groundbreaking.