Glenn Garvin | The Miami Herald
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“Cane” starring Jimmy Smits, right, debuts this fall. On the far left is cast member Eddie Matos, an actor born in Puerto Rico and raised in Miami. (Robert Voets/CBS)
Cane, a drama about a wealthy Cuban-American family torn by fratricidal tensions as its sugar and rum businesses are passed down to the next generation, is part of the new fall schedule released by CBS on Wednesday.
Set in Miami, the show has a powerhouse Latino cast—including Jimmy Smits, Rita Moreno, Hector Elizondo, Nestor Carbonell and Miami resident Paola Turbay—and executive producer Jonathan Prince promises scripts to match.
“It’s like The Godfather if Vito Corleone had passed the family business to Michael, but Sonny and Fredo were still alive and pissed off about it,” Prince told The Miami Herald.
The announcement about Cane came at a press conference on the third day of the so-called upfronts, the New York meetings in which broadcast TV networks unveil their new shows and schedules for advertisers and the media.
CBS also introduced new dramas about vampires, wife-swappers and a seedy Nevada casino, while canceling nuclear apocalypse drama Jericho, crime drama Close To Home and Gen Y sitcom The Class.
But the big news for South Florida, in more ways than one, was Cane. Not only will a good chunk of the show be shot here, it will be the first network series to focus on the evolution of the Cuban exile experience over the past five decades. And Prince said it will educate the rest of America about everything from the Pedro Pan exodus of children from Cuba to the tension between those who left the island and those who stayed.
“It’s not a documentary, it isn’t on PBS,” he said. “But it’s a family drama dealing with how families really act. There will be a lot of scenes at the family dinner table, and among the things they’ll talk about will be what happens when Fidel Castro dies, who will take over, and if it’s Raul, what does that mean. That will be in the show because those are some of the things Cuban-Americans talk about in real life at dinner.”
Even the language will be authentic: The show will sometimes use subtitles as characters weave between English and Spanish.
Prince himself is neither a Hispanic nor a Miamian—he grew up in Los Angeles—but another Cane executive producer, Cynthia Cidre (she wrote the screenplay for the 1992 film Mambo Kings) was born in Cuba. They were paired up on the project by CBS programming chief Nina Tassler after Prince—who has produced several family dramas, including American Dreams and Life Goes On—told her he was interested in doing one about a well-to-do Hispanic family.
“I don’t think TV has ever done a show about an upscale Latino family,” Prince said. ‘Latino families on television are hardscrabble. We talked about making the family Mexican, Venezuelan, even Guatemalan. Then Nina Tassler told Cynthia, ‘You’re Cuban, why aren’t you writing about Cubans?’”
In Cane, Smits will be the focal point of an ensemble cast that plays a family ridden with tensions and jealousies. As patriarch Elizondo is dying, he chooses his son-in-law (Smits) rather than one of his own children (Carbonell and Turbay) to run the family business.
“It’s a serialized family drama with an epic feel,” Prince said. “By epic, I mean the size and scope of Dallas in the old days, or miniseries like ‘Rich Man, Poor Man’ and ‘North & South’.”
The pilot episode of the series was shot in March, with cast and crew working two days in Miami. The producers plan to return to South Florida on a schedule similar to that of CSI: Miami, taping here about two weeks out of every eight.
“We want to use a lot of Florida locations—South Beach, the Intracoastal, sugar fields, all kinds of stuff,” Prince said. “We want the sky to look like a Florida sky and the water to look like Florida water. Florida’s different—we can’t shoot the Intracoastal in Long Beach. Well, I guess we could, but it would look ridiculous.”
Along with the local scenery, Prince wants to use local talent: He’s talking to Gloria and Emilio Estefan about working on the show’s soundtrack. Because one of the characters will own a South Beach club, music will play an important role in Cane.