In July 2002, hours before Alina Falcón announced to her Univision Network news staff that she was being promoted to head the newly launched Telefutura Network, she called news anchor María Elena Salinas to her office and broke the news.
“I cried … really,” recalled Salinas about that afternoon, when the veteran anchor realized her long-time news director, mentor and friend would no longer be around the news department. “I knew it was a great opportunity for her, but I also knew we would miss her terribly,” said Salinas, who has co-anchored the widely popular Noticiero Univisión newscast for years, many of them under the guidance and mentorship of Falcón.
Falcón's move to Telefutura was only the latest in a long string of promotions for her at the Spanish-language media giant. Since joining Univision's local affiliate WLTV-Miami as a 23-year-old in 1984, she has risen through the company ranks displaying a combination of strong managerial skills with what most of her colleagues and co-workers describe as outstanding people skills.
Today, as head of the nation's most influential Spanish-language TV network, the divorced 47-year-old mother of one is charged with overseeing all aspects of the business, including programming, promotions, talent relations, technical operations and news.
“Alina can do anything and everything,” said Univision Communications president and chief operating officer Ray Rodríguez, who has been responsible for most of Falcón's promotions in the almost 20 years they have worked together. “She knows every telenovela star, every person who is in the business. But most importantly, she knows all the issues.”
Born and raised in Miami by Cuba-born parents, she knew early on what she wanted to be when she grew up. “I had a natural curiosity for issues, facts and history,” Falcón said. “I knew I would go into journalism or possibly law, but in the end it was the journalistic bug that finally got me.”
Under Falcón's watch, Noticiero Univisión won the Edward R. Murrow Award for Best Newscast in 1997 and two national Emmy Awards in 1998. Perhaps most important, her leadership was instrumental in making the nationally broadcast Noticiero Univisión the highest-rated newscast among Hispanics, and the most watched newscast, regardless of language, in key markets.
“It seems so obvious now, but in the old days Spanish-language TV was very different,” said Rodríguez. “You would look at our network news and then look at CBS, NBC and ABC and you'd see basically the same stories. Alina really transformed the news department to one totally focused to what matters to Hispanics.”
Ratings and awards aside, Falcón had the additional task of combining a successful TV career with raising a child, something that long-time Univision anchor Jorge Ramos can relate to: “Alina and I both had to grow and see our kids grow while working in journalism,” said Ramos, who joined Univision around the same time Falcón did. “I witnessed first-hand what it was to be a Wonder Woman; seeing Alina balancing her work in Univision with being a mom, a good mom. I like to call her a super woman.”
When asked to describe a particular individual achievement at the network, Falcón will invariably speak in terms of “we,” summing up the most rewarding thing of working for Univision in one simple sentence: “This is not just a job for us; it's a mission. What we do here really makes a difference in the lives of Hispanics.”
Although she has spent virtually her entire TV career at Univision — it will be 25 years in October — Falcón's first job in television was actually in English-language TV, working the assignment desk at then local CBS affiliate WTVJ (now NBC) for little less than a year before joining Univision as a producer.
Colleagues refer to a “spirit of fairness” that seems to accompany every executive decision Falcón makes; while business partners highlight her skills as a resolute negotiator.
“I was impressed by [Alina's] ability to deal with difficult situations,” said Diego Lerner, president and managing director at The Walt Disney Co. Latin America, who worked with Falcón in 2007 to develop a Spanish-language version of ABC's Desperate Housewives.
“These are not easy initiatives,” said Lerner. “But every time there was some kind of difficulty, she would step in with great determination. I was impressed.”
Premiering in 2008 on Univision, Desperate Housewives might not have been the ratings blockbuster the partners expected, but it did go down in history as the first ever collaboration between Univision and Disney-ABC International Television Latin America. More important, it was one more effort led by Falcón to diversify Univision's programming, whose primetime has long been dominated by Televisa fare.
One of the network's most successful properties launched under Falcón is Nuestra Belleza Latina, a combination beauty pageant and reality series now in its third year.
A self-described “TV junkie,” Falcón confesses, “I don't only work on TV. I am a big consumer of TV.”
Asked where he'd like to see Falcón in the next five years, Rodríguez says it'd better be at Univision, perhaps even following in his own footsteps.
“She could do my job, and do it better than I can,” Rodríguez said. “You can quote me on that.”