With Telenovelas on the Rise in the United States, Latino Talent Scout Luis Balaguer Misses the Point

Mar 11, 2012
3:05 pm

It was an interesting piece that you might have missed if you don't read The New York Times on a regular basis, but on March 9, stuck inside the Times' Business section, this article "Spanish-Language TV Dramas Heat Up Miami" tries to provide answers as to why Spanish-language programming is becoming more popular.


Here is the context:

Five telenovelas are being shot in Miami up from only a couple a few years ago. Last year producers spent a combined $40 million in the area, up from $11.5 million in 2009, according to the Miami-Dade County Office of Film & Entertainment.

Although telenovelas were long churned out in Mexico, the two dominant Spanish-language networks in the United States, Univision and Telemundo, are increasing production in South Florida, attracted by American marketing opportunities, tax breaks and the growing Hispanic audience in the United States.

Telenovelas imported from Mexico can still bring big ratings on American networks, but increasingly Hispanics in the United States want to watch stories that resonate with their lives here, network executives said.

Actors, producers and writers from Latin America have descended on the city, turning Miami into a telenovela Tinseltown. The design district and its luxury stores and restaurants like Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink have become a hub for paparazzi from Spanish-language publications on the lookout for stars like Ms. Soto, who plays Camila on Univision’s telenovela “El Talismán.”

Granted, Latin America popular culture is indeed influencing the United States more and more. As the US becomes more Spanish-speaking, it makes sense. However, the telenovela has its history of presenting a fictional world that does not reflect what Latin America is all about. Just like the Jersey Shore and Real Housewives phenomenon, telenovelas can be just as silly and just as problematic. The dumbing down of the US can now be done in Spanish.

And that brings us to what Luis Balaguer said to the Times when discussing why telenovelas are gaining traction. Balaguer is a major talent player and producer for this type of programming, and since he has access to decision-makers who green light projects, we feel his intentions are skewed and miss the mark. This is what he says in the article:

“I tell network executives, if you love an actress, but your nanny doesn’t know who she is, that’s a problem,” Mr. Balaguer said.

Balaguer disappoints us with a quote like this. By suggesting to major network executives that the "nanny" audience is a demographic for them, he is only perpetuating the stereotypes that many US Latinos are trying to crush. Balaguer just becomes an enabler of the fluff many US Latino viewers are telling networks to cease. Balaguer falls into the trap of the 4HS of Hollywood that Esai Morales has so eloquently stated. We hope that people like Balaguer can demand better. Why just give people what they think they want. What not give them something that they don't know they want, but once they get it, they know they had always wanted it in the first place? That is all we ask.

FYI, here is a history of what Balaguer's company (co-founded by Sofía Vergara) and how they market themselves:

Latin World Entertainment (LWE) is the premier Hispanic talent management and entertainment marketing firm in the United States. Founded in 1998 by Luis Balaguer and Sofía Vergara, LWE has grown from a management agency for top Hispanic talent to a multi-service company offering a 360° approach that includes public relations, endorsements, promotions, brand integration, production, content development, and licensing. LWE represents the biggest stars, opinion makers and trendsetters in the Spanish-speaking entertainment world and leverages that star power to take brands and products directly into the burgeoning Hispanic market. In addition, the firm has successfully marketed over 500 major Hollywood studio films to U.S. Hispanics, promoted top Spanish-language music tours for the largest live entertainment companies in the U.S., and created and produced branded entertainment programs featuring LWE talent for various Fortune 500 companies.