Saucy telenovelas have long defined Spanish-language TV, but as Hispanics become more assimilated in the U.S., Telemundo has incorporated a bit of English-language strategy into its primetime. Luis Silberwasser, former senior VP at Discovery Networks Latin America who joined Telemundo in August 2014, aims to recast the network in a new light. With an eye on the buzziest English-language shows, such as AMC’s Breaking Bad, the network is betting on the bigger-budget, crime-focused “Super Series” at 10 p.m. It has also added “bio-musicals” including the TV movie Celia, based on the life of salsa legend Celia Cruz.
Ratings under the Colombia-raised Silberwasser, 51, have grown; Telemundo was the rare network to gain viewers in 2015.
An edited version of Silberwasser’s conversation with B&C deputy editor Michael Malone follows.
Give us a taste of Telemundo’s upfront presentation.
Our focus will be on changing the marketplace’s perception of Hispanic TV. We’re doubling down on our Super Series and creating new formats—still with that storytelling DNA that’s so loved by Hispanic audiences, but new ways of telling stories. We want to tell the market Telemundo is a more modern, more contemporary network, more in tune with the Hispanic audience. We craft our content and put things on air we think are right for this audience.
Let’s talk about the Super Series strategy.
We’ve thrown away the old model, standard soap operas [that are] very traditional, stories that run for six months and you don’t see them again. We decided to create a different kind of drama. We looked at successful series like Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, and said, ‘Why don’t we create great Spanish-language dramas that have better production values, are more action-packed, have elements of crime and mystery, and bring them back for more seasons if they’re successful? The first was El Señor de Los Cielos (“Lord of the Skies”) which is entering its fourth season.
What’s different about Telemundo’s election coverage in 2016?
Hispanics will probably decide who is going to be president. So we decided, this is the election where Telemundo is going to make a statement. The competition has a very strong news team. [But] we think we can be much more balanced. We’ve created a slogan, Yo Decido—I decide. We’re going to represent both points of view, but at the end of the day you decide.
When do we see Don Francisco’s projects on the air?
We’re working very hard with Don to create new formats that hopefully will be on the air for the next upfront season. Don Francisco is an icon, somebody who for 50 years has entertained Hispanic audiences. This is a person who wants to reinvent himself and what he can do in television. Telemundo also wants to reinvent what Spanish-language television is all about, so the match there is very powerful.
Was signing Don Francisco a statement to Univision?
No, that doesn’t concern us. The statement really is for our audience. We think we can win if we tell different stories in different formats. If we do it better than the competition, we have a chance.