At the Television Critics Association’s Press Tour for her new NBC comedy, Telenovela, actress/executive producer Eva Longoria talked about her track record in diversifying network television. “There’s a lot to be done to have more diversity in front of the camera, but it starts behind the camera. Our show is a great example of it because we’ve done such a great job obviously in front of the camera, but the writers’ room is very diverse. Our crew is very diverse. Our directors are very diverse…I was a producer turned actor. I’ve always had a producer’s mind. I like the business side of things, and so I always knew I would produce. I took a left turn somewhere and became an actress.” While starring on Desperate Housewives Longoria did some producing, too.
And with many years of producing under her belt, Longoria has been happy with the response. “What I do love is people automatically come to me with content that is Latino‑themed or has Latino cues; but I don’t think that you can program to Latinos. I don’t think Latinos like that. They want good shows. They want great content. We are lucky that we hit both of those things [with Telenovela]. We are a really great big broad comedy that has a lot of Hispanic cues in it, and so a general audience can enjoy it and understand it and laugh at it. Latinos are going to really or have really embraced it and love it because they go, ‘Oh, my God. I know that character, that person, that situation.’”
Longoria acknowledged that the popular term “telenovela,” unites different Latino cultures. “It’s very hard to program to Latinos. I am not saying African-Americans are a monolithic group. They are very diverse as well…. But Latinos are definitely not a monolithic group, and so, when you have the Cubans and the Puerto Ricans and Dominicans — if you see our cast — we touch all of that and then some. You know, if you tell an East L.A. story, sometimes the New Yorkers don’t get it. And I’m a Texican. So sometimes I don’t get either coasts, and it has definitely been hard. I don’t think, if you cast it, they will come. These roles authentically had to be Latino. They are on a telenovela. So casting this show was very different than stunt‑casting the Benetton ad.”
Asked about her future– possibly as a Latina television president —- Longoria said that she wouldn’t be interested in going in that direction. However, she did note that “ in Chicano studies in academia, we call them the ‘gatekeepers.’ There needs to be more gatekeepers at decision‑making levels. I’m the seller. I’m not the buyer. As a producer, I sell content but in the room, we have to have that diversity so people can understand it. Diversity means many things. It means more females [too]. We need more Latinos, Blacks, Asians. We need a lot more perspectives because that’s really where it makes a difference. Now, how do you get there? We need a pipeline, and the only way that you can become a network executive is if you touch every rung of the ladder in production; be a producer, be a director, know how TV is made, and, then, you can rise to the ranks and hopefully run a network.”
Telenovela has been drawing in numerous Latino viewers. “We are overindexing with Latinos. I actually ask these questions every day. NBC marketing or statistics people hate me because I’m calling them four times a day, going, ‘No. Wait. Who? What? What’s the average?’ They’ll tell me a number, and then I go, ‘But what’s the average? Are we above that? Are we below it?’ We are way above it. Hispanics are watching, which we are very happy and excited about.”
Longoria also executive produces Devious Maids on Lifetime, and now, she will be guest starring in that series for the season four premiere as well. “We just finished Telenovela and now we’re starting Devious Maids. So I’ll be going to Atlanta very soon. But, I’m so proud of that show. I’m so proud of those girls. We were on the ballot for People’s Choice. We almost made the cut. It has such a loyal audience, and it’s still the number one drama on Lifetime, so I’m very, very proud of it.” (By Susan L. Hornik in Los Angeles)