Univision helps connects immigrants to their culture

To its core viewership of Spanish-speaking immigrants, Univision is a warm, fuzzy blanket.

The net not only serves to entertain with telenovelas from back home but to educate, inform and give advice. Its overall tone is paternalistic, almost condescending. “Brush your teeth, especially after meals,” a nubile lady in white intones in the segment “Salud es vida” (Health Is Life).

At the same time, the web’s sultry on-air female talent do not shy away from baring some cleavage. Ratings spike whenever weather girl Jackie Guerrido comes on.

Its radio DJ Eddie “Piolin” Sotelo and TV anchors, credited for the massive turnout of Hispanics in recent demonstrations against a controversial immigration bill, appear in promos urging viewers to join the marches but to do so peacefully and to wave U.S. flags. They also implore students to stay in school.

Flagship L.A. station KMEX’s motto is “A su lado” (By Your Side). It is also the title of its public service segments.

Produced twice a month, they offer viewers a chance to speak directly with experts on immigration, health, taxes, adoption, senior care and myriad other issues that affect their lives.

“Univision is a transitional network,” says Leigh Savidge of Xenon Pictures, the exclusive U.S. homevideo distrib of Televisa. “It keeps new arrivals connected to their culture until their English is fluent enough to appreciate the general market networks as well.”Thanks to its multi-year programming supply pacts with Mexico’s Televisa and Venezuela’s RCTV, Univision offers first-run programming year-round. It does not rerun any of the telenovelas — three hours of which are stripped in the daytime and another three in primetime.

The rest of the slots are filled by news, sports, variety, talk and annual musical awards shows like the “Premio lo nuestro” and the Latin Grammys. Televisa’s Sunday dance competish “Bailando por un sueno” has been a ratings hit.

After some botched attempts, Univision has focused on producing only non-fiction fare. Its newscasts touch on both salacious and serious events, but also provide more extensive coverage of Latin America. In some markets, newscasts led by anchor Jorge Ramos have trounced all of Univision’s English-language counterparts. Univision’s news operations cost the company $30 million to $45 million a year.

Top-rated morning talk show “Despierta America” (Wake Up America) runs for three hours on weekdays.

The net has its very own Oprah, Cristina Saralegui, who debuted as host and exec producer of “Cristina” in 1989.And long-running variety/game show “Sabado gigante” (Gigantic Saturday) airs from 8 to 11 Saturday nights.

Hosted by Chilean-born Don Francisco, whose real name is Mario Kreutzberger, the show celebrates its 20th year (although it debuted in Chile in 1962). Given his longevity, Don Francisco is likely the highest paid on-air talent at Univision. A new “Sabado Gigante” has been produced every week in its history with no reruns; it’s the kind of security blanket a Spanish-speaking immigrant can rely on.

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