Here Comes ‘The Judge,’ or Rather ‘El Juez’ for Latinos
Judge David E. Marin, who likes to say he chose law as a profession “to serve my fellow citizens,” is about to earn his pay. He’s returning to the bench following a recess in a bitter child-custody suit. The parents and the young son they are feuding over wait expectedly for his verdict.
“Often, the people most hurt in divorce cases are the children,” Marin lectures in Spanish, his tone fatherly but stern. “They can feel insecure and confused. Tomas loves both of you and that’s marvelous! You shouldn’t make him feel like he’s an object being fought over. He has to know who he can depend on. So, for the good of Tomas, you two must make an effort to behave.”
With a reproving wag of his finger and a rap of his gavel, Marin notifies Tomas’ mother he won’t permit her to deny the father visitation rights. Now faced with the reality of having to tolerate one another, both parents apologize to each other and, joined by Tomas, they all embrace under the glare of television cameras and Marin’s approving smile.
At 4:30 p.m. today, Spanish-speaking viewers in Los Angeles will get their first chance to see the fictional Marin and his family court on KMEX Channel 34, as Univision network and Genesis International TV Sales Inc. debut “El Juez,” a Spanish-language copy of the daytime courtroom series “The Judge,” aired by KHJ-TV Channel 9.
The low-budget but fast-paced “El Juez” not only uses the same sets, cameras and production staff as its English-language counterpart, it also uses the exact same scripts, translated into Spanish.
Officials at Univision and Genesis are heralding “El Juez” as the first Spanish-language drama produced in this country and based entirely on a U.S. show. While they obviously are hoping the show has the same kind of voyeuristic appeal for Latinos that “People’s Court,” “Divorce Court” and “Superior Court” have for the English-speaking crowd, the significance of the weekly half-hour program goes deeper for actor Rene Enriquez, the former “Hill Street Blues” star who plays Judge Marin.
“For the first time in the history of this country, a breakthrough, a milestone--a Spanish-language dramatic series filmed here so Hispanics can come and work,” Enriquez gushed in his accented English. “It’s extraordinary. We’re going to develop lots of good actors and these will put us (Latinos) in position in the American film market.”
Univision, the Spanish-language network that purchased the rights to “El Juez” before production even started, said that about 200 Spanish-speaking actors were used to make the first 26 episodes of “El Juez.”
The Nicaraguan-born Enriquez cites this statistic and what he sees as the program’s educational value for Latinos (forthcoming episodes will cover abortion, AIDS and immigration law) as the prime motivation behind his accepting the role.
“By giving this program the aura that ‘Hill Street Blues’ gave me, I’m giving it credit. I do it with passion because it will give work to Hispanics,” declared Enriquez, who played Lt. Ray Calletano in the Emmy Award-winning police series. “I’m taking an enormous cut in pay to do this. Well, why not? Put your money where your mouth is--that’s the expression, isn’t it? I hope other Hispanics in the community will come and help me with this.”
An ad hoc coalition of Latino actors, writers and directors doesn’t share Enriquez’s unqualified enthusiasm for “El Juez,” however. Several of its representatives have criticized the Screen Actors Guild for letting the show’s producer hire Latino union members for $148 below the union’s minimum daily wage without consulting the guild’s membership, and are demanding a meeting with SAG officials.
“We have a major problem with SAG, which is that they just don’t treat us with respect, and that includes the (SAG) staff and board of directors,” said Rachel Levario, an active member of Nosotros, one of the groups that is organizing the meeting.
According to Levario and sources closely involved in the making of “El Juez,” actors who worked on “El Juez” (with the exception of Enriquez) were paid $250 a day, while their English-speaking counterparts on “The Judge” and other SAG-sanctioned shows typically earn at least $398 a day.
Barry Cahn, who produces both “El Juez” and “The Judge,” said that he requested a wage waiver from SAG only as a “temporary relief” because the price Univision offered to pay Genesis for the show precluded him for paying actors the full rate. He promised that by late July or early August, at the end of 52 weeks worth of filming (Genesis retains an option to film an additional 26 weeks of shows in addition to the 26 weeks worth already finished), he would either renegotiate actors’ salaries or cancel the show outright, depending on the ratings.
For its part, SAG insisted that it had the unspoken support of its 2,212 Latino members, 80% of whom are typically unemployed on a given day.
The guild’s Hollywood affirmative action administrator, Rodney Mitchell, said: “We were rather excited about it (the waiver agreement with Genesis) because it met the concerns of Hispanics who had been urging us to do something for them for years.”
According to figures released in the fall edition of “Screen Actor,” the SAG magazine, Latinos accounted for only 3.4% of all performers working in TV and film in 1987, despite making up more than 8% of the U.S. population.
Citing SAG’s constitution, Mitchell pointed out that the guild did not need membership approval to enter into any waiver agreements. Mark Locher, a SAG spokesman, said the guild approved the waiver request to keep the producer from hiring non-union actors or taking the show to Mexico or Puerto Rico, where labor is much cheaper.