Estefan inks U TV pact

Saying hola! to one of the fastest-growing demographic groups in the country — bilingual Latinos — Universal TV has signed an overall development and production deal with Miami-based pop impresario Emilio Estefan Jr.

Estefan’s first-look pact with Universal covers network, syndication and cable series and longform projects, and is expected to be extended into the feature film realm (Daily Variety, June 16). U’s interest in Estefan comes as another sign that Hollywood is paying more attention to the tastes of the domestic Latino audience.

As a manager and producer in the musical world, Estefan has guided his wife, diva Gloria Estefan, to crossover global stardom. The five-time Grammy-winner is credited with discovering crooner Jon Secada. His production credits also include recordings by such superstars as Madonna and Julio Iglesias.

After scaling great heights in the music biz, Estefan says he’s ready for a new challenge. Sitcoms are high on his list of development priorities, as they are for Universal.

“I think this is a really unique opportunity for me to go beyond music,” said Estefan. “And I think the marketplace is open to having programs with an international flavor. I understand both (the Latino and mainstream American) cultures and I will use my background to produce shows that will appeal to Italians, Jews, Latins, blacks, Anglos — everyone.”

Moreover, there’s concern in the industry that the networks are losing ground with bilingual Latinos as ratings for the Spanish-language broadcast networks Univision and Telemundo grow. Advocacy groups have been quick to complain about the dearth of minority representation in primetime, but those pressures aside, the networks have clear financial interest in developing programs that reflect the sensibilities of an ethnic group that is nearing 10% of the U.S. population.

“One theme that has consistently emerged in our conversations with the networks is a fundamental desire to tap into that crossover audience that’s out there but is not being served,” said Jim McNamara, president of Universal TV Enterprises.

Estefan already has TV production facilities in place at his Crescent Moon Studios in Miami. He’s won two CableAce trophies for producing Gloria Estefan concert specials for the Disney Channel and Showtime.

Estefan’s deal with U was negotiated by the William Morris Agency’s Jim Griffin.

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