Judge Judy and Jeopardy! are two of the most successful syndicated properties in history. Armando Nuñez is the driving force behind those shows, and many others, getting and staying on the air. But much of his cachet is connected to bringing success to CBS’s billion-dollar international division.
As president and CEO of the Global Distribution Group, he leads the marketing and monetization of some of the most popular dramas in history.
“I’ve been very fortunate through my career to work on a number of different, recognizable shows that became franchise shows around the world,” Nuñez said.
He’s certain the legacy of two such linchpin shows is cemented. “You’re going to see a CSI and NCIS around the world on different kinds of platforms, probably forever,” Nuñez said. Under his leadership, each had the distinction of being the most-watched show worldwide.
“He’s had a positive effect on the programs produced for the U.S. networks and the willingness of the networks to bankroll them, in large part, on the revenues that he can bring in from international,” Jim McNamara, a former top executive at New World Entertainment and Universal Television, said.
That could also mean dusting off vintage shows like I Love Lucy and Star Trek, which originally aired on NBC.
For Nuñez, it wasn’t just about launching Star Trek: Discovery on the CBS All Access streaming platform in 2017. A second original series, Star Trek: Picard, is coming soon to the digital service with global licensing to Amazon. Nuñez also orchestrated a landmark Netflix deal for much of the Star Trek library.
“As a kid who played Star Trek with his brother growing up in Hell’s Kitchen, it’s kind of cool to have a small part in bringing back the franchise to television,” Nuñez said.
However, that only scratches the surface, as distribution covers all of CBS Corp. That includes CBS News, Showtime, CBS All Access, CBS Studios and CBS content for The CW.
Nuñez’s workload includes coordinating CBS content for the many streaming platforms, including heavyweights Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. The anticipated launches of digital services from The Walt Disney Co. and WarnerMedia add to the crowded field and to the monetizing opportunities for CBS.
Another step toward the future was bringing Australia’s Network 10 into the CBS portfolio.
“It’s very exciting to see the evolution of the way content gets created and gets monetized, not only in this country but from a global perspective,” Nuñez said.
The Fordham University graduate grew up in the industry. His father, Armando Sr., handled film distribution for 20th Century Fox in Cuba, “which literally meant he would drive movie prints around to the different movie theaters in Havana,” he said.
Nuñez Jr. was born in New York, as the family fled Cuba during the Castro revolution when his mother was eight months pregnant.
By age 10, he was quoted in the New York Daily News saying: “I’d like to be exactly like my father in everything. He works in a television studio.”
His dream became a reality in 1992 when he was named executive VP, international sales for Viacom Entertainment. Nuñez solidified his place in the business as president of New World Television International Distribution.
Over the next quarter-century, Nuñez became a major television influencer, sitting on several power lists, including The Hollywood Reporter and Hispanic Business Magazine
Home and Abroad
Nuñez’s influence is impressive internationally, but his responsibilities are domestic as well with control of CBS Television Distribution, which absorbed King World Productions in 2007. There he oversees some of the biggest syndicated properties, including Jeopardy!, Wheel of Fortune, Judge Judy, Entertainment Tonight and Dr. Phil to more than 200 markets. (The day B&C interviewed Nuñez for this article he was celebrating Dr. Phil’s 3,000th episode.)
His team is not only behind U.S. distribution for shows like Wheel and Jeopardy!, it also handles exporting the format for localized versions in other countries.
Nuñez, based in Los Angeles, has plenty on his plate and tons of frequent-flier miles from numerous work-related trips as “CBS’s ambassador around the world,” he said.
“I always considered him to be the most international guy in the business,” McNamara, now vice chairman of Hemipshere Media Group and chairman of Pantelion Films, said.
Nuñez considers himself a hands-on executive, but recognizes he’s enhanced by a great staff surrounding him.
McNamara concurred. “Once you established your reputation with him, he really went to bat for you, [he’s] what you’d hope for in a boss,” he said.
One example of Nuñez’s management style shined as a subordinate under McNamara at Universal. They flew to Canada to meet with the owner of (now defunct) Canwest, delivering some bad news that they would not renew a deal with them. “We were right there together,” McNamara said. “He really showed his true colors in what was a very awkward and difficult situation.”
The longtime television executive never planned for a two-decade career at the Tiffany Network, especially with much shorter stints in his past. So even with the longevity, he’s learned not to take anything for granted. Nuñez worked for New World Entertainment, owned by Ron Perlman, when the Murdochs acquired it. His time was also cut short at Universal when Edgar Bronfman sold his domestic TV assets to Barry Diller.
“I was running out of companies to work for,” Nuñez jokingly reflected on the earlier portion of his career. “I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have the run that I’ve had [at CBS].”