When charged with bringing a large media company closer in ratings and revenue to its main competitor, it certainly helps to have the resources to “get the job done.”
Perhaps the greater challenge is finding the executive who can steward such a firm in a calculated-yet-aggressive manner.
NBCUniversal's Telemundo Network might have found that executive in August of 2014, when it successfully lured away Discovery Networks International executive vice president and chief content officer Luis Silberwasser, naming the 11-year cable-programming veteran as its new president.
Silberwasser and his team are now looking to close the gap against archrival Univision Communications, the Hispanic market's top media company. And they’ve seen some success.
Viewership in weekday primetime among adults 18-49 is up to an average 757,000 viewers from 697,000. And Telemundo has ranked No. 1 at 10 p.m. weeknights, regardless of language, in the 18-49 demo, since the third season of its "Super Series" telenovela El Señor de los Cielos bowed on April 21.
With NBCUniversal Owned Television Stations president Valari Staab and Telemundo Station Group president Manuel Martinez "laser-focused on making the stations better," Silberwasser told Hispanic Television Update in an exclusive interview that his next task is building on the network's 10 p.m. success with bolder telenovela lead-ins, a fresh take on reality programming and Telemundo’s first stab at a Saturday-night variety show.
A DIFFERENT SONG AND DANCE
Celia — a drama series inspired by the life and career of the late Cuban entertainment icon Celia Cruz — can be a game-changer for both Telemundo and for primetime telenovelas, Silberwasser said.
"We really wanted to define our programming strategy by looking what is working for us at 10 p.m. and why," Silberwasser said. "We used those insights and brought that same strategy to the rest of our primetime lineup. It is a special moment for Hispanics in America, and we saw the need for something new and different to grow our network.
“Celia is a story, with music,” he added. “It’s happy. It’s sad. It has all of the elements of drama and song that has worked [with English-language primetime dramas]. We saw it with Glee and with Empire, and introducing this new format to Hispanic television in the 8 p.m. hour is exciting. Our expectations are high.”
A period piece, Celia is produced by Fox Telecolombia and was filmed in Puerto Rico, starting in February. Jeimy Osorio (Una Maid in Manhattan, Porque el amor manda) and Modesto Lacén (Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights) portray Celia Cruz and her husband and manager, Pedro Knight, during their younger years. The series continues with the introduction of 2014 Latin Grammy nominee Aymeé Nuviola and newcomer Willy Denton, who play the couple in their later years.
Can a show about one of Miami's most beloved Latin superstars attract an audience west of the Mississippi? Silberwasser believes so.
"Our audience will be the ultimate judge, but we think it is going to appeal to a broad audience," he said. "Celia is really an icon across Latin America, and the show resonated with Hispanics across all of our test markets. I think Celia really represents Hispanic America."
At 9 p.m., Silberwasser has put his faith in Bajo el mismo cielo, a telenovela that — for the first time, he said — depicts the U.S. Hispanic migrant experience. "The story line is much more real than the typical fantasy-world production," he said.
A loose adaptation of the 2011 film A Better Life, the story centers around undocumented Los Angeles resident Carlos Martinez, portrayed by Gabriel Porras (El Alma Herida, La Reina del Sur).
The premiere of Bajo el mismo cielo generated Telemundo’s highest ratings for a telenovela premiere in three years.
"As we continue to look at our strategy, we ask ourselves if we can continue to innovate, and what else we can find that is very different from the competition," Silberwasser says.
The result: Adding the first-ever U.S. Hispanic adaptation of Endemol's Big Brother, Gran Hermano, to the lineup and bringing its own variety show, ¡Que Noche!, to Saturday nights.
"This is our next big bet for Saturday night," Silberwasser said. Asked about the timing of the show's debut, after the Sept. 19 finale of the Don Francisco-helmed Sábado Gigante on rival Univision, he said: "We wanted to capture the Sábado Gigante concept but with a much-younger audience, and talent that resonates with this audience.” Telenovela actress Angélica Vale and Raúl González — a host of Univision morning program Despierta América from 2001-2014 are the combo that Silberwasser believes "will bring Saturday night back to life" for Latino TV viewers.
AWARENESS AND AWARDS
In addition to its programming plans, Telemundo is hedging its bets on Pope Francis’s visit this month to the U.S. and Latin America, devoting significant news and programming resources to the trip.
Over Sunday nights during the next three months, Telemundo will air faith-themed programming tied to the pope’s trip, including the miniseries A.D. and a four-part, four-hour miniseries on Pope Francis’s life.
Meanwhile, the network has integrated the struggle of Type 2 Diabetes — a common ailment for U.S. Hispanics — into the storyline of Bajo el mismo cielo through a newly forged partnership with pharmaceutical giant Boehringer Ingelheim.
Storyline integrations follow character Andrés Cabrera as he manages the disease. The integrations are supported by a custom vignette airing in conjunction with the storyline and featuring actor Juan Cepero, in character as Cabrera, encouraging viewers to visit www.cuidatudon.com for more information about Type 2 Diabetes.
Telemundo is also featuring Boehringer Ingelheim-sponsored custom Q&A-style segments on its weekday morning show, Un Nuevo Día.
Lastly, Telemundo believes it can stage its own Latin music awards program by launching its Latin American Music Awards. Televised live from Hollywood on Oct. 8, the LAMAs are a Hispanic take on the American Music Awards, created by Dick Clark in 1974. Dick Clark Productions has yet to announce the show's host or musical performers.
YOUTH MOVEMENT ‘EN ESPAÑOL’
As Telemundo makes an aggressive, schedule-wide push for 18-to-34 Hispanic viewers, Silberwasser said he isn’t worried about the industry pundits who posit that younger Latinos don't consume Spanish-language television and live in a largely English-speaking world.
“We believe that we can bring 18-34s who want to see great programming on our network,” Silberwasser said. “Great programming can be in Spanish. Remember, this audience is bilingual. They are watching a series in Spanish, and commenting on Twitter in English.
“If we can properly speak to this audience with great programming, there will be no further gap to bridge,” he added.