New Bilingual ShowHigh on WJLA’s 'Agenda' | @BCMikeMalone

WJLA Washington and NewsChannel 8 have dominated industry news of late amid Sinclair’s planned acquisition of their parent, Allbritton, and talk of the broadcast group expanding the cable channel beyond the Beltway. But the D.C. pair have not been sitting idly, launching—along with Washington Telemundo affiliate WZDC—the Hispanic public affairs show Agenda. Taped in English and Spanish, Agenda airs monthly on NewsChannel 8 and WZDC.

Bill Lord, WJLA VP and general manager, says the rookie could go weekly this fall. “It’s off to a good start,” he says. “It has great potential as it becomes better known.”

The 30-minute program, which airs on Saturdays, sees host Danny Vargas break down issues such as immigration, racism and sequestration, with panels and special guests. "This unique partnership was developed to reflect the fact that Hispanic-Americans are savvy and influential consumers who choose to access content in both Spanish and English," says Nicole Quiroga, general manager at WZDC.

Agenda arrives as more Hispanics are consuming news in English. According to the Pew Research Hispanic Center, 82% of Hispanic adults said they got at least some of their news in English in 2012, up from 78% in 2006. Furthermore, 86% said they got news from TV on a typical weekday, way ahead of radio (56%), the Internet (56%) and newspapers (42%).

A Serious Change

Agenda is a welcome change from the proliferation of fizzy entertainment on Spanishlanguage stations, believes Roland Roebuck, a community leader in Washington and past president of the Commission on Latino Community Development. “The reason many individuals refuse to watch Spanish [language] TV is it dumbs down our intellect,” says Roebuck. “This program takes a different course.”

Launching with modest promotion, ratings for Agenda are low; it gets around a 0.3 or 0.4 in households, though Lord notes that weekend ratings on the cable network are not high to begin with. He won’t rule out putting Agenda on WJLA, but says it is on NewsChannel 8 for simplicity’s sake—because it and WZDC are more evenly matched in terms of ad rates.

Washington Area Toyota Dealers is a sponsor. “We’ve had quite a bit of interest from others,” says Lord.

Estuardo Rodriguez Jr., principal at D.C. strategic consulting firm Raben Group, has been a guest on Agenda. He says the program goes “one step deeper” on mainstream issues to show how they affect Hispanic families. “That extra layer is highly appealing to someone who’s channel-surfing for information and news,” Rodriguez says.

Sinclair recently agreed to buy Allbritton for $985 million; WJLA staffers, many concerned about Sinclair’s reputation for cost-cutting and its mercurial relationship with local news, are watching what happens after Sinclair closes on its purchase of Seattle-based Fisher Communications. David Smith, Sinclair chairman, president and CEO, made waves when he spoke of taking NewsChannel 8 national. Such a move would only stand to benefit Agenda, but others are fine with the show staying in D.C.

“We don’t have serious programming that addresses the issues in the Latino community,” says Roebuck. “Agenda breaks the mold and elevates the discourse. It fills a very important vacuum.”

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.