×

Robert Rodriguez’s El Rey Network Builds Heat With Young Latinos

For the first year of its on-air life, the El Rey Network has been about as DIY as any microbudget indie movie ever was, an apt trait, given the net’s origins.

Comcast gave filmmaker Robert Rodriguez a distribution commitment for the channel in the spring of 2013; El Rey snuck on the air with a soft launch in December, after Univision came onboard as a financing and operational partner. The Austin-based filmmaker and his team at FactoryMade Ventures effected some quick hires, and bought up as much programming as they could find — and afford — that focused on Rodriguez’s love for genre pics, 1970s pop culture (think “Starsky & Hutch”) and other cool stuff that would appeal to movie- and TV-loving millennials, particularly U.S.-born Hispanics. Rodriguez also reached out to friends including Quentin Tarantino and Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci to get a handful of original series off the ground quickly. (The launch timing was dictated by Comcast’s obligation to carry multiple minority-owned channels, per the terms of its 2011 acquisition of NBCUniversal.)

Now that they’ve made it through year one, Rodriguez and Co. are expanding the programming to include a broader range of original fare and fan-friendly ideas, such as the People’s Network initiative, which solicits material directly from viewers. Some fans who have sent in homemade El Rey promo spots have gotten calls to produce more (for a fee, of course). Rodriguez also wants to use the fan feedback loop to recruit writers and directors for El Rey original series, such as “From Dusk Till Dawn” and interview skein “The Director’s Chair.” “Filmmakers need to get training somewhere,” Rodriguez says. “That’s the only way we’re going to get the diversity in programming that (the industry) needs. We’re going to have to go outside Hollywood to find those new voices.”

Rodriguez and El Rey vice chairman Scott Sassa say it’s possible to make a business out of a cable channel built on vintage kung fu movies and low-budget chestnuts such as 1972’s “Frogs.”

El Rey is available in about 40 million homes, earning about 8¢ a month per subscriber. The channel employs about 60 fulltime staffers, with Rodriguez hands-on as programmer-in-chief. The channel has some sizzle with marketers as an outlet with a target of English-speaking Latinos.

Sassa acknowledges that El Rey’s audience isn’t as young as company execs would like. But they’re working on it with shows like “Lucha Underground,” an out-there mix of Mexican-style wrestling and folklore, produced by Mark Burnett.

“We have the elements in place, and most importantly, we have Robert as the face of the network, which gives us that authenticity,” Sassa says. “Now it’s about executing.”

More TV

  • Whoopi Goldberg addresses the crowd while

    Inside World Pride's Opening Ceremony: An LGBTQ Celebration With a Tinge of Politics

    World Pride officially kicked off on Wednesday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. About 8,000 people packed into the arena for a three-hour show that began with Cyndi Lauper singing her hit “True Colors.” The performance ended with a gaggle of dancing drag queens who pranced alongside Lauper as she turned the train of [...]

  • Democratic presidential candidate Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth

    The Messy NBC Democratic Debate Proves the Need for a Tier System (Column)

    The opening night of the first debates of the 2020 Democratic Party primaries brought — even by the standards of such way-far-out confrontations between candidates for whom the election remains a far-off dream — vastly more empty drama than new information. But then, that may have been by design. NBC News’s organization of the debates, [...]

  • Max Wright Dead

    'Alf' Actor Max Wright Dies at 75

    Max Wright, best known for playing patriarch Willie Tanner on the sitcom “Alf,” died Wednesday. He was 75. Wright’s family confirmed his death to TMZ. The actor died in his home in Hermosa Beach, Calif., after years of battling cancer. Wright was diagnosed with Lymphona in 1995. Wright is most famous for his role as [...]

  • Greyson Chance -Gabby Barrett Alejandro Aranda

    Greyson Chance, 'Idol' Alums Gabby Barrett and Alejandro Aranda Sign Major Label Deals

    Two “American Idol” alumni — Gabby Barrett and Alejandro Aranda — as well as viral star Greyson Chance all announced new major label recording contracts this week. Barrett, who finished in third place of the first season of the rebooted ABC version of “Idol,” has joined the roster of Warner Music Nashville. The singer had [...]

  • amazon-studios

    YouTube Head of Scripted Jon Wax in Talks to Join Amazon Studios

    YouTube’s head of scripted programming, Jon Wax, is in talks to join Amazon Studios, according to an individual with knowledge of the matter. Wax is said to be in discussions for head of genre programming at Amazon, a position held by Sharon Tal Yguado until recently. Variety reported on her exit in early May. The [...]

  • WGA Agency Packaging Fight Placeholder Writer

    WGA Takes Aim at Endeavor IPO, Tells Members It Has 'Sufficient Funds' for Legal Battle

    The Writers Guild of America has gone to the Securities and Exchange Commission in its battle with Hollywood’s largest talent agencies over the issue of packaging fees and affiliated production. The guild sent a letter to William Hinman, director of the SEC’s corporate finance division, the guild accuses WME parent company Endeavor of misrepresenting the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content