In "Browntown" there's no telling whom you might meet. It could be the gossiping regular at the bodega, the local bartender who won't stop singing showtunes or a cop who dreams of becoming a break dancer. But they all feel familiar and they're always funny.
At least that's the vision behind the first sketch comedy TV show from Mitu, a downtown L.A. digital media start-up run by former Nickelodeon executives. Set to air in early 2019 on Paramount Network, "Browntown" will include sketches, music parodies and animated shorts that offer glimpses of life in a predominantly Latino neighborhood. Company executives hope the TV series will do for Latinos what Fox's "In Living Color" did for African American audiences in the '90s.
Until recently, Mitu was known for creating clickable content for young Latinos through its own website and on Youtube and social media. With "Browntown," the studio is venturing into new terrain by producing longer, more traditional content -- TV series, documentaries and, eventually, movies -- that caters to younger Latinos who are underserved by Hollywood.
"We're hardly ever seen or heard in traditional mainstream media," said Mitu Chief Executive Herb Scannell, a veteran TV executive who is half Puerto Rican. "We're too often underestimated."
The Latino millennial population is the fastest-growing moviegoer segment, and Latino millennials spend more time on their phones consuming digital content than any other demographic, according to PwC research.
Yet they are underrepresented on screen. Latinos accounted for 18 percent of the U.S. population in 2016 but made up only 6 percent of speaking or named characters on screen, according to USC's Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity in Entertainment. Only a handful of TV shows over the decades have depicted Latino characters. "I Love Lucy," "Chico and the Man," "Dora the Explorer," "Ugly Betty," "George Lopez" and "Jane the Virgin" are among the few.
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Serving a largely untapped Latino audience has fueled Mitu's rapid growth. The company, which declined to disclose its finances, says its videos and other content that celebrate cultural nuances and critique stereotypes reach more than 90 million people a month across Facebook, Youtube, Instagram, Snapchat and other platforms.
"Digital is the best thing that could have happened to any community that is underserved, because it gives you a free platform and a voice," said Mitu co-founder Beatriz Acevedo. "You don't have to wait for someone to validate you."
The company got its start in 2012 capturing snippets of the Latino experience in short Buzzfeed-like videos on various free platforms. Mitu viewers are probably familiar with Abuela, a gray-haired Cuban grandmother character who affectionately, and sometimes a little too insistently, offers her grandchildren food. Or Mama Rosa's segment, in which she explains or acts out Mexican stereotypes -- like why growing up Mexican means you have to be wary of la chancla, an object that Mexican mother stereotypes commonly use to spank their kids. The site also links to stories and tweets featuring well-known Latino personalities, such as Gael Garcia Bernal's recent singing performance during the Oscar ceremony.
"Browntown" represents a new, more ambitious phase in Mitu's growth. The company has been experimenting with longer shows for a couple years. The company in 2015 produced two TV series about home decor and beauty for Discovery U.S. Hispanic Networks. In January 2017, Netflix premiered the stand-up comedy show "They Can't Deport Us All," developed by Mitu.