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Saying ‘Hola’ to a Latina ‘View’

Ask any Latino in the media about what’s missing on television, and most likely you will hear something along the lines of “Why isn’t there a Latino version of The View?” Latinas currently represent one of every six women 18-49 in the U.S., and it is estimated that the demo will comprise one of every five women by 2020. What’s more, Latinas 18-49 will grow by 3.2 million over the next 10 years, while the number of non-Latino women will actually decline by more than 1 million. But while many still dwell on the lack of options for Latinas on TV, others are doing something about it, and Bel Hernandez is one of those hoping to make a change. A native of Mexico, Hernandez is the creator, producer and co-host of ¡Hola, LA!, a brand new English-language TV show catering to Latinas and airing on KCAL-TV in Los Angeles, a CBS-owned independent station. Hispanic TV Update caught up with Hernández earlier this month in New York, where she attended the annual gala of the Hispanic Organization of Latino Actors.

MCN: ¡Hola, LA! premiered Sept. 30 in Los Angeles. How did the idea for the show come about?

Bel Hernandez: The conversation about the fact that in 15 years ABC’s The View had not cast a Latina as a host was a recurring topic of discussion of our group of industry friends.  We were appalled that the networks had little concern to include the Latina voice in their shows.

Instead of continuing to gripe, I decided that with the technology available to us, and the Internet as our avenue of distribution we would just do our own talk show. My husband, Enrique Castillo, friend Miguel Torres and I teamed up and we outreached to the three other hosts: Naibe Reynoso, Dyana Castillo and Kikey Castillo.

MCN: You had planned this for a while, I believe …

BH: We had our first meeting in late 2008 to meet and discuss what we wanted to do. We came up with the name Let’s Talk! and spent a month planning and countless meetings on what this show would be and what our mission was. We had our first meeting at the offices of Blanca Valdez, one of Hollywood’s top casting directors -- we had reached out to her and she came on board as one of the producers -- and we uploaded our first episodes to the Web in early 2009. In 2011 we moved to TV, airing 8 episodes on the independent TV station KJLA. And it was then when we began our conversations with CBS.

MCN: Your show was always conceived as an English-language proposition, not Spanish. Why?

BH: All the hosts and our friends mostly watch English-language TV. As actresses or on-camera talent, it was always on English language that we aspired to be. Also, English-language TV is increasingly becoming the way to reach acculturated Latinos. Look at Robert Rodriguez’s El Rey; the revamped Nuvo TV; or Google’s web channels Uno Dos Tres and Nuevon. There are all in English. Most importantly the Disney/Univision venture for a news and lifestyle network.

The need for English-language programming for Latinos is obvious.

MCN: How would you describe your show to a non-Hispanic audience?

BH: It is an American talk show with a Latina twist.  ¡Hola, LA! is not only about “Latino topics,” but a show about universal topics with a Latina POV. Oprah didn’t do it. Cristina [Saralegui] did it in Spanish. Tyra didn’t think of doing it. And, The View … whose view?

MCN: Your show is based in Los Angeles. Why isn’t there anything similar at the national level?

BH: Television executives don’t yet fully embrace the Latino audience. They mistakenly think that Latinos in the U.S. only speak Spanish and that they are only watching Spanish-language TV.

The truth is that over 65% of U.S. Latinos speak English. Upscale U.S. Latino households (defined as having an annual income of $75,000 or more) have more than doubled, to roughly 3 million.

Also, network executives don’t realize that Latinas influence 80% of the money that comes into the household and that Latinas are currently one of every six women 18-49 in the U.S. and will represent one of every five women in that demographic by 2020.

MCN: Do you see this changing sometime soon, though?

BH: Network executives continue to believe that diversity on television is black and white when in fact television should be in full color. Both The View and The Talk would rather have two African-American hosts and not one Latina. For the fall season there were about five new talk shows introduced by the networks … not one Latina among them.

MCN: What would it take for your show to go national?

BH: All the advertisers we have met with really like the show and are excited about it. They are beginning to target English-speaking Latinos they tell us, but they are still figuring out what budget they would buy from: Their Hispanic budget, their new “in culture” budget or their general market budget. They are still figuring that out, but for ¡Hola LA! to go national sponsors would need to fully commit to addressing the Latina viewer; to understand that although English speaking Latinas are assimilated they nonetheless have strong cultural bonds and yearn to see relatable programming on English language TV.

MCN: How are viewers responding to the new show?

BH: Through our pages on Facebook and Twitter, people across the country ask us when the show will be in their city. I recently got a call from Philadelphia from a young lady who had been watching our talk show on the Internet.  She wanted to let us know that she and her group of friends were excited to see our show and was their choice above The View.

We are starting off like Oprah did … locally, but we hope we will be large enough to get us to our goal of eventually going national.

MCN: Wouldn’t a name like ¡Hola LA! limit your national exposure?

BH: There is always ¡Hola USA!.