Can a bilingual situation comedy about a Cuban family in Miami make it on commercial television?
Is the country ready for a TV series where students discuss the problems of school desegregation - interracial dating, busing, student peer pressures, racial isolation?
The Department of Health, Education and Welfare thinks so. Officials there believe so strongly that they put $34 million into a 17-program series package for minority children and funneled another $450,000 into setting up a distribution firm called TVAC (Television for all Children).
But - so far only 30 stations have scheduled any of the programs. Nate Long, executive director of TVAC, who was in town last week, says America is ready for the Penas, a Cuban family of parents, grandparents and teen-age children trying to adjust to life in America in the series "Que Pasa, U.S.A.?"
He also thinks "As We See It," the program about desegregation, is timely. Both are carried by WETA-TV (Channel 26).
The package includes other programs such as "Rebop," "Infinite Factory" and "Mundo Real (The Real World"), which are aimed at blacks, Latinos, Orientals and American Indians.
Long, a talkative, easy-smiling man, is concerned.
"We're not doing well in the East, particularly in the Washington-New York area," said Long.
"Station managers tell us they have no time slots available, that they're being innundated with programing ideas."
All the programs Long is handling emphasize education, not entertainment. For example, "Infinite Factory" teaches math to 7-to-2-year-olds through music and magic.
"The Saturday morning cartoon shows on commercial television put too much emphasis on entertainment," Long contended. "I can't think of a good network children's program."
Why hasn't there been a stampede to pick up these programs, which one station manager in Chicago described as "fantastic"?
"Although it costs a station a duplication fee of $25 a show, and some between $15 and $25, these programs have to be shown without commercials during the shows," Long explained.
No commercials are allowed because the programs, 287 hours of television, were produced at government expense. The U.S. Office of Education in HEW gave $34 million in grants for production costs.
Long, 47, a 20-year Air Force veteran was picked to head TVAC, a marketing firm, by Washington State University, where he teaches communications and produces television programs at the campus station, KWSU-TV.
The Los Angeles-based marketing firm was organized with a $450,000 HEW grant to distribute the 17 programs that were already finished.
Of these, 15 were produced by minority group persons. Topper Carew, former director of the now-defunct New Thing Art and Architecture Center in Adams-Morgan produced "Rebop," a series about a variety of minority children.
Long, who got his start in film and television after being discharged from the Air Force in 1958, produced "South by Northwest," five 30-minute dramatic programs about the role of blacks, including Cattle Kate and Mary Fields, in the Pacific Northwest.
"We want our audience to understand the minority cultures in our society," said Long. "And shows like 'South by Northwest' tell something about our history many of us didn't know before."
Long hopes to increase the number of stations running the programs from 30 to 500 by May. "We've got our regional directors out in the field, talking to station managers, showing them programs, pointing out all the educational advantages of the shows," he explained.
Prospects would be rosier if he could find more stations like KPLA-TV in Los Angeles, which already is running 12 of the 17 programs.
In Washington, WETA-TV (Channel 26) schedules two shows: "Que Pasa, U.S.A.?" and "As We See It."
Long said TVAC may shift its emphasis from large to small markets such as Cleveland or Gary, Ind.
"We're finding out how difficult it is to promote," he sighed.