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When Your Show Is Relegated to Cruising Altitude

Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photo: HBOMax

Gordita Chronicles creator Claudia Forestieri remembers exactly how she felt when the TV show was first picked up by HBO Max. “It was like winning Miss Universe,” she says. “You know when you see the beauty pageant contestants, and they get picked, and their hands quiver, and they start ugly crying? That’s what I started doing.”

The comedy tracks the Castelli family’s move from the Dominican Republic to Miami in the 1980s. The show received a 100 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and when it debuted, Forestieri said she was hearing anecdotally that her ratings were strong. But as she and her team started putting together a second season, she got a call that her show was being canceled. The news hit her hard. “There was like a burst of flames from within me. I felt really, really hot. I thought I was going into menopause. I had tests done and everything, and my gynecologist was like, ‘No, you’re not.’” Forestieri later got another call where she learned Gordita Chronicles was being taken off the HBO Max platform entirely.

So far, HBO Max has taken more than 80 titles off its platform in the last few months. The company says this is part of its merger with Discovery+ and that taking these shows off the platform is a cost-cutting measure. Into It host Sam Sanders talked with Forestieri about what it feels like to have a show that exists but lives nowhere and what it says about an industry that repeatedly fails to support Latino stories. Read an excerpt of that conversation below, or listen to the full episode of Into It wherever you get your podcasts.

Can you recall the conversation when you heard the show was canceled?
Nobody from HBO Max reached out to us directly. It was all filtered through Sony. They just told us they were no longer going to do live-action kids and family programming.

How did you feel when you heard that?
Devastated. I thought it was just a b.s. excuse, until two or three weeks later when all these other shows got canceled. Then it seemed like we were the canary in the coal mine. They decided not to release Batgirl. And then I started thinking, “Is it something against Dominicans?” Because Leslie Grace is Dominican. Maybe the new leadership at Warner Bros. Discovery just doesn’t like Dominicans for whatever reason, I don’t know!

But then it started becoming clear that it was an industrywide contraction in streaming. So with the benefit of time, I’ve been able to look at the decision and the events of last fall with a clearer head. I had only been on two shows when I sold Gordita Chronicles: Good Trouble and Selena: The Series. The reality is, I benefited from the streaming wars when they gave a first-time creator with limited TV-writing experience a show, which wouldn’t have happened 10 or 15 years ago. Then the show was a casualty of the streaming wars. So now I see it as the industry giveth and the industry taketh.

So there was a call where you found out the show was canceled, but there was also the call where they told you the show was going to disappear from the app. Can you remember that second call?
Yeah. As painful as it was, that one I was expecting because I had seen that they had already removed some other shows from the server, so it just felt inevitable. It happened sooner than I would’ve liked, and even though I was expecting it, it was still heartbreaking. And we’re still looking for a home for those season-one episodes, so I’m hoping they will land somewhere eventually.

Did they give you a reason for taking the show off the app?
The same reason they gave everyone, just cutting costs. It’s hard. I come from the East Coast and Miami — shout-out to 3-0-5 — and over there, people are more up-front with decisions. But in this industry, it’s a different game. Sometimes there’s a reason you’re given, and then underneath there’s a real reason.

What do you think is the real reason?
I don’t think there’s an appreciation for shows about the Latino experience, and I think it’s an industrywide problem. I think if you don’t have any Latinos, any Black people, any people of color among the leaders and decision-makers that connect to something on a personal level, it’s easier to cut things.

A lot of people of color really connected to this show. I also had seen some data indicating that our two biggest groups of audience were Latina women and white women. That’s without even counting the kids. We had a lot of fans under 18. At the end of the day, we were never given exact numbers from HBO Max as to what our audience was and what the breakdown was. And I think that was to not draw more negative attention to the decision that was made.

So where can you find Gordita Chronicles right now? Me and my team, we looked all over for your show to watch it, but we couldn’t find it. Where is it?
The show is physically and spiritually in limbo. Right now you can only see it on American Airlines and on JetBlue.

What? I’m going to have to take a plane to watch your show. Wow. Is the whole season on there?
It’s the first four, five, or six episodes. I seem to recall the Halloween one. I took a flight back from Miami in January, and I saw it on there. I watched a couple episodes just for fun. People still write to me like, “Oh my God, I discovered the show on the plane. Where can I see the rest?”

And they can’t. Wow.
Yeah, right now you can’t. At least I have copies that were given to me.

Could you put it online yourself, ostensibly, if you wanted to? Is there a SoundCloud or Bandcamp for TV shows?
That’s a good question. I’m not sure. Right now, Sony is working to get the first season on another platform. I don’t have the latest information on that. But hopefully we land somewhere, and if not, then I guess we would probably discuss other ways of making it available. I really hope that happens, so people can see it. This whole experience has just been a lesson in how the industry works.

What’s been the biggest lesson in that regard?
There’s bigger forces that are out of your control. All I can do is try to be the best writer I can be and move forward, but it’s heartbreaking. And also, I have to acknowledge, as Latinos, we have a huge problem. Our shows keep getting canceled. It just feels like it’s two, three times harder for us. And that’s something I’ve been thinking about for the last few months, “Okay. What can be done to help the next show?” Because I’ve seen so many shows get canceled. Vida got canceled, Gentefied got canceled, and these were wonderful, brilliant shows, and now Gordita Chronicles is added to the list. So what can we do? I haven’t found a solution yet, but it’s a big problem, and it is frustrating. Some days I can push it aside. Other days I feel like, “Wow, I put my heart and soul into this show for so many years, we did everything right, we got all these wonderful people to work on it. People loved it. We got great press. We didn’t have a huge marketing budget, but we did everything against the odds, and still we got canceled. What’s the use of coming up with another show?” That’s what sometimes I think.

But I also try to temper all those negative thoughts with positive thoughts. Sony believes in me, and they gave me a wonderful overall deal, and hopefully I’ll get to sell another show with them. We’re going to be pitching something in a month or two that I’m really excited about, and I’m working on another show, a reboot, also with Sony that I’m excited about. It just feels like now I’ve really been inducted into Hollywood. It’s painful and it’s not always fun. It’s not always a premiere with Eva Longoria and Zoe Saldana. You have more days of disappointment than you do celebration. But it’s still an industry that I want to be in, and I feel like it’s worth it to keep fighting. But we do have a huge problem on our hands.

Do you think it’s going to get better anytime soon? Any of this?
I don’t know. I used to think that things were on an upward trend. I remember when Vida came out, and it was the first time that I truly felt seen because the female characters that Tanya [Saracho] created were so complex and nuanced and three-dimensional. I was like, “Oh my God, these characters feel like women that I’ve known. It feels like myself.” It was a critically acclaimed show. I thought things were going to get better for us as Latino creatives going forward. But now, I don’t know.

The industry’s going through so many changes. It feels like every week there’s some new bombshell piece of news. I’m hoping that a year from now, the dust has cleared and whatever contraction has been happening in the industry has finally stopped and we can get to a more stable place.

I still can’t help thinking that maybe it was too early to do a show about a plus-size person of color. There’s still a lot of things that don’t make sense to me that I’m still trying to make sense of every day.

And that’s rational and reasonable. How worried are you that this might happen again to your next show?
I try not to think about that, because thinking about it makes it really hard to write. So it’s in the back of my head, but the last few months have just been an exercise in trying to figure out the things I can control and the things I can’t. What I can control is my writing and doing all the things that I can to get the next thing off the ground. And then there’s the big industrywide things that I feel like I can’t control.

I don’t want to just idly stand by, but at this point, I don’t know what can be done. There’s so many organizations like the National Hispanic Media Coalition, NALIP, whose whole mission is to increase the number of Latin shows on TV and Latin creatives in front of and behind the cameras, and they’ve been doing it for decades. I have friends that work there too, and I know this is a battle that they’ve been fighting for so long. So I feel like we need to maybe think about new strategies. But I don’t know what those are yet.

Into It with Sam Sanders

When Your Show Is Relegated to Cruising Altitude