Image By: Jason Eppink
I told Sheila that I would need her to be on time and available for the next several days. This, I was certain, would result in her taking an unplanned holiday to Daytona. I canceled all of my other engagements and then I drove down to the 7th Street Brewery in Gulf Gate. If I were going to bone up on Elna Alvarez, I needed the help of a television expert. The master brewer, Harrison Tyler, not only knows television; he is also a former writer, director, and producer from Los Angeles. Despite leaving the industry he has surrounded himself with the memorabilia of his career and fifteen large screen televisions running the latest programs in his brewery restaurant. Most of his trade comes in the evenings and weekends when he turns all fifteen televisions to sports channels.
“What can I get you, Cusper?” Harrison asked, pulling down my mug from the rack.
“Are you still making that Oktoberfest Blonde?” I asked.
“You mean the Blonde Oktoberfest?” Harrison corrected me. “Sure, you want a pint?”
“Yes,” I said and settled onto a barstool.
“Harrison, what do you know about Elna Alvarez?” I asked.
Harrison watched the foam in the mug judiciously. “How do you mean?”
“I know she has a daytime show, but beyond that, I really don’t know much,” I said.
“Cusper, I know your views on television. But you’re missing some of the most important cultural events of our times. Shows like Elna Alvarez’s are social litmus tests. They tell you who we are as a people and where we are going,” Harrison said and set my beer down on a coaster.
“For example, Phil Donahue gave us the white, socially sensitive male. Looking back, you might say it was liberal guilt, pandering, and sophistry. But at the time, he was controversial,” Harrison said.
“Then Jennie Jones came along. She wasn’t what sank him, but she showed us that his time was done and we wanted someone different, someone who really challenged us. Then there was Oprah. She was something different; brilliant, controversial, fearless. She took people to places and she became a trusted household name. She was to daytime television what Walter Cronkite was to news. When she said something, when she endorsed something, you could believe it.”
I sipped my beer and considered this. Harrison started washing mugs.
“Where does that leave me with Elna Alvarez?” I asked.
“Well,” Harrison said. “After Oprah bowed out of daytime programming, she left behind her selected few, Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, and Rachel Ray. All of them are doing well. But none of them are Oprah.”
I gave Harrison an impatient look.
“If you followed television you would understand, when someone or something breaks onto the scene on its own, the cultural relevance is much higher. Elna Alvarez is an outsider. Her show started as an afterthought production in Miami. They broadcast two hours, one in Spanish, one in English. You should come by and watch it sometime.”
“Is she one today?” I asked.
“You missed the second hour,” Harrison said, racking the mugs he was cleaning. “We’ll have her on tomorrow.”
“I really need information today,” I said, giving him a meaningful look.
Harrison gave me a skeptical look, “She started to get traction after few North American affiliates picked her up to fill the midday dead zone after some of the soap operas folded, they figured they had nothing to lose. When they found they were getting higher ratings during those two hours than in their primetime line–up, the programmers started taking notice. After about six months and some rating analysis, they realized that had a cross-over hit. Spanish-speaking viewers were watching both hours and so were English-speaking viewers. Now, Elna is poised to be picked up for national syndication.”
“Okay. So this means what?” I asked.
“The bilingual era. The point at which networks can stop segregating programming by network. If Elna hits critical mass nationally, a number of networks are going to be able to add bilingual programming into their main line up,” Harrison said.
“You’re telling me in a Speak-English–Damn-It society, a daytime television show is going to change everything?” I asked.
“I’m telling you that the shows serve as a litmus test. When demographics have shifted, a program can nudge things over the edge. The success of Elna Alvarez would indicate a shift in attitudes,” Harrison said.
“I can see that,” I said.
“So what’s your involvement with Elna Alvarez?” Harrison asked. “It doesn’t have anything to do with what happened to Dr. Villa, does it?”
“Sorry Harrison. I can’t talk about it yet. But when I can, you will be the first person I’ll tell,” I said, and put down a fifty dollar bill.
# # #
(To Be Continued)
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