Execs from NuvoTV and Televisa USA reveal how they taking Hispanic culture in the US living room with originals from the likes of Jennifer Lopez and Mario Lopez (pictured). Stewart Clarke reports as the second day of NATPE Miami 2014 gets underway.
A range of English-language services aimed at US Hispanics and mainstream English-speaking viewers that want to tune into US Hispanic culture and celebrity are changing the TV landscape.
What is now the NuvoTV cable network started out as production company Sí TV in the late 1990s, making English-language, Latino-focussed shows such as The Brothers Garcia for Nickelodeon. In 2004 Sí TV rolled out as a full cable net, programmed with the English-speaking Latino culture-skewed content it had been producing.
The next landmark was a 2011 rebrand to NuvoTV; a move which preceded megastar Jennifer Lopez joining as chief creative officer last year. Boosting the privately-held cable channel’s ambitions was a US$40 million injection of funds last year with Columbia Capital, Rho Capital, Veronis Suhler Stevenson and Tennenbaum Capital Partners all putting cash into the business. Announcing the financing deal last August, Nuvo said the funds would be used to “expand a diverse roster of groundbreaking, original programming”.
Chief exec Michael Schwimmer (above) says there is a gap in the market and Nuvo is filling it. “What we do is capture the essence of what it means to be Hispanic in the US. What we think is missing is an accurate, non-stereotypical portrayal of this cultural identity beyond the hackneyed telenovela. Our audience is not confined by language.”
The channel recently picked up basic cable syndication rights to Dexter, giving it all of the eight seasons of the crime drama, but over half of the content on the channel is original and Schwimmer says, “the issue is not the number of hours but investing in quality”. To that end Nuvo locked Mario Lopez, the Saved by the Bell star and X Factor presenter, into an overall production deal late last year. He was already working on Nuvo series Mario Lopez: One on One and the first show to come from the development deal is dating-meets-dance competition hybrid series Salsa in the City, which will roll out this year.
The relationship with Jennifer Lopez generated huge press for Nuvo. “What was clear was that neither Jennifer or Nuvo wanted a traditional development deal, so we found a deeper more multifaceted relationship,” says Schwimmer. “She’s chief creative officer; she’s involved in all key creative decisions and decisions around branding and marketing. And she will produce and exec produce through [her prodco] Nuyorican.”
Lopez was the subject and exec producer of biopic Legacy: Jennifer Lopez, produced by Nuyorican, while A Step Away is a behind the scenes look at the work and lives of back-up dancers on a Lopez live tour. Also from her production company is a project based on the Paul Cuadros book A Home on the Field about the academic and author’s experience of coaching a young Latino soccer team.
In the same way Viacom’s BET tackles African American viewers’ lives and interests but also pulls in a mainstream audience, Schwimmer says Nuvo goes wider than just hitting English-speaking Latinos.
The network does not however have this space to itself, with two new networks, Fusion and El Rey, chasing English-speaking Hispanic viewers. Schwimmer argues that this pair are going after narrower segment of the audience than his network and that there are large number of viewers to win outside of the millennial demo they are chasing.
“I thought there would be more competition,” he says. “Latin culture is mainstream culture, it’s not an exclusive club.”
Univision is tuning into the English-language fray, backing the aforementioned Robert Rodriguez’s cable net El Rey (The King) and joint venture network Fusion.
Fusion launched last October and is a JV between Univision and Disney-ABC Television, pooling their respective news and current affairs expertise to programme the news, lifestyle and culture channel.
El Rey will go after Latino audiences with English fare and rolled out last December. Its major original project of note thus far is a ten-part TV version of Rodriguez’s 1996 movie From Dusk Till Dawn (above), which is in production and will primarily be distributed internationally by Miramax.
Television USA: from Mexico to the English-speaking world
Televisa is the world’s largest Spanish-language programmer and one of the world’s largest media companies, but was not top of mind among Hollywood executives until 2012 when it joined forces with Lionsgate to create TV, movie and production divisions that are repurposing its content for English-speaking audiences.
As VP of entertainment at HBO, Michael Garcia worked on shows including The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire and The Wire. He started consulting for Televisa and Lionsgate in 2011, looking at shows that had the potential to be remade for the mainstream US market before then taking the full-time role of chief creative officer at Televisa USA. Having been an English-language TV exec, he freely admits to approaching the task of perusing the Televisa library with a healthy degree of scepticism, doubts that were shared by the rest of the US TV business.
“There was a stigma here in the US about the supposed production values etcetera, but the stories really grabbed me and I thought there were things that could be adapted,” Garcia explains. “I started watching a lot of these [Spanish-language] shows and I fell in love with them – I remember thinking ‘this isn’t supposed to be happening’. The challenge was getting people past the idea that ‘this is a telenovela’.”
The growth of the US Hispanic networks and a number of breakout hits helped Hollywood become more informed about novellas and the main players in that world. “What was really helpful was the ratings story,” Garcia says. “People might not have known what a telenovela was, but they understood eight million people watched it on Univision.”
The breakout show for the Televisa Lionsgate group was Devious Maids. Created by Desperate Housewives’ Marc Cherry, the Lifetime series was based on Televisa’s Mexican show Ellas son la Alegría del Hogar (They Are the Home’s Joy). “Devious Maids shows the audience does want to watch a story with a strong overall Latin character,” says Garcia, who is one of the show’s exec producers.
Another big win for Televisa USA has been Terminales. The Mexican drama, which originally aired on Televisa’s Canal 5 in Mexico was created by Miguel Angel Fox and tells the story of a young female
journalist – April Marquez – whose life is struck short by a terminal illness. The show follows her life as she tries to come to terms with the illness and find true love. The US version, titled Chasing Life (below), is about to bow on cable net ABC Family and Garcia says Televisa USA wants to show it can bring in Latin formats, Latin talent (Televisa has deals with a raft of stars) and Latin audiences but can also reach a wider viewership. He describes Chasing Life as a “general market show that happens to over-index with the US Hispanic audience”.
Associated to Televisa USA is the Pantelion film studio, which bills itself as Hollywood’s first Latino studio and which is run by the same partners, Televisa and Lionsgate. It made last year’s Instructions Not Included, which was the largest grossing Spanish-language film ever in the US.
On the talent side, Televisa has cut a development deal with actor and comedian George Lopez, who will star in the English-language motion picture La Vida Robot, which is based on a magazine article in Wired, was shot in Mexico and tells the story of four Mexican-American teens who make a state of the art robot. Lopez will also make TV shows with Televisa USA and its production banner South Shore under the terms of the pact.
The other major talent deal has been with That 70s Show star Wilmer Valderrama who, like Lopez, will work on TV and movie projects.
“There’s a potent crossover between Mexico and the US and we can play at both ends, in English and Spanish and in film and in TV,” says Garcia. Talking about 2014 goals he adds: “You will see a big expansion of our operation that will include [talent] deals bearing fruit, bringing more projects to market and having a bigger presence in unscripted and formats adaptation. And we’ll be taking some bigger shots with broadcast [as opposed to just cable] TV.”