Mario Lopez: Poster guy for celeb-as-brand boom

Hyphenate's ubiquity, success reflects new breed of showbiz stars

Hollywood is bemoaning the eroding bankability of movie stars because it represents yet another threat to traditional showbiz economics.

But the end of the $20 million-a-picture era for actors has dovetailed with the full flowering of the celebrity-as-brand marketplace. And like the technology-driven disruptions to the old order, the branded-celeb phenomenon is all about decentralizing power away from the majors and aggregating a fan base in a fragmented pop-culture landscape.

Nobody has worked the levers of the biz’s new starmaking machinery like Mario Lopez. Yes, Mario Lopez. The guy who will forever be known to Gen-Xers as jock A.C. Slater from “Saved by the Bell” is everywhere these days, thanks to what his reps describe as a concerted effort to “360” his career.

Lopez is about to bow as co-host of Fox’s “The X Factor,” alongside another example of celeb cottage industry, Khloe Kardashian Odom. He’s also the host of syndie TV newsmag “Extra.” In April, his four-hour daily radio program, “On With Mario Lopez,” went into national syndication via Premiere Radio Networks. He’s a staple on the yakker circuit and, until his sked recently became too packed, he was a frequent guest host on “Today,” “Good Morning America” and “Live With Kelly.”

On cable, Lopez hosts for Nuvo TV the interview program “One on One,” which he also produces. He’s penned three fitness books and two children’s books. He’s got a line of upscale undergarments (“Rated M”) in department stores and just launched a lower-priced line of undies (“Malo”) for discount stores.

Taking a cue from brand-builder ex traordinaire Ryan Seacrest, Lopez and his longtime manager, 3 Arts’ Mark Shulman, are ramping up TV and film production opportunities. There are two projects in the works for MundoFox, Fox’s Spanish-lingo U.S. network, they’ve just completed a pilot for ABC Family, and they’re developing an animated series based on Lopez’s kids book “Mud Tacos.”

There’s no doubt that Lopez’s timing is perfect, by virtue of his heritage as a first-generation Mexican-American, to capitalize on America’s awakening to the growth and influence of the nation’s Hispanic population.

But long before, back when he was making a few grand a week hosting Animal Planet’s “Pet Star” and doing personal appearances a decade ago, Lopez had a vision for how to shape the “Mario Lopez” brand. He drove his own success with a work ethic that won’t quit (clearly) and an innate understanding of how to platform himself. He carefully built up his profile by moving freely between acting roles on “The Bold and the Beautiful” and “Nip/Tuck” to being a contestant on “Dancing With the Stars” to hosting the Miss America pageant and “America’s Best Dance Crew.”

“I’m not interested in being a movie star,” Lopez says. “I’m interested in building a business and a brand.”

What, in a nutshell, is Brand Lopez?

“It’s about being an all-American guywho embraces his (Mexican) roots, and that gives everything I do a little flavor,” says Lopez. I’m all about family, health and fitness and pop culture.”

With so many angles to work, Lopez is beholden to none. His strike force of handlers includes manager Shulman; Mark Itkin, Brooke Slavik Jung and others at WME; attorney Eric Weissler of Jackoway Tyerman; merchandising maven Andy Cohan of ACI Licensing; and longtime publicist Lisa Perkins of Fifteen Minutes.

“If you know how to build out your career, you’re never going to find yourself saying, ‘OK that job’s over, now what are we going to do?’ because then you’re at the mercy of the studio or the network,” says Shulman. “If you’re relying on just one thing, you’re playing it too passively.”

Lopez’s rising clout in the licensing and merchandising arena is notable in that he’s never had one big hit that propelled him to household-name status like Seacrest and “American Idol.” The “X Factor” hosting gig, which begins Nov. 1, will be his biggest primetime platform to date.

The benefits of celeb-ubiquity never quit. Just as Lopez and his fiance Courtney Mazza were scouting around for a videographer for their December wedding, TLC sailed in with an offer to produce a two-hour special on their nuptials (it airs Dec. 8).

Mazza, a former dancer, is well on her way to joining Lopez in the family business. She’s in the midst of setting up her own line of fitness videos.

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