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October 4, 2007 at 2:35 PM

In CBS’ New Drama, Ethanol Makes Prime Time

Trading Southfork’s oil tycoons for South Florida sugar cane barons, CBS’ new family saga “Cane” could be a “Dallas” for the alternative energy era.

The show, which first aired late last month, portrays the travails of a Cuban-American family empire in the midst of a major decision: whether to concentrate on its lucrative rum brand, or to jump on the ethanol bandwagon. (Sugar-cane ethanol, according to energy experts, is more energy efficient than its Corn Belt cousin.)

The family patriarch Pancho Duque (Hector Elizondo), who built the family’s fortune after fleeing the communist revolution in Cuba, handed over the reins to son-in-law Alex Vega, for whom the future is green (not only with dollars.)

“Sugar is the new oil: today you’re putting it in your coffee, tomorrow we’re going to be driving our cars with it,” Alex (played by Jimmy Smits) tells the family.

But his enthusiasm fuels a family feud. His brother-in-law Frank Duque (Nestor Carbonell), unhappy at being passed over in the family succession, retorts: “You think you can become the Saudi Prince of ethanol, man… you’re really a piece of work.”

The alternative energy touch comes on top of other big dramatic elements: a ruthless rival family (the Samuels), the steamy Miami night life (which frankly, beats that of suburban D-FW) and even the complexity of Cuban exile politics.

In the series’ trailer, Vega-Smits says that “Cuban sugar is going to become the world’s fuel” — a wistful reminder of the economic revival many exiles expect in their homeland once the Castro brothers go away. But after decades of decay, the Cuban sugar industry lies in ruins while Brazil reigns as the topmost producer of sugar-cane ethanol. The success of Vega’s plans also depends on the U.S. being willing to lower its heavy tariffs on imported ethanol.

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