When I say that the Univision upfront was the best show that media buyers are likely to see to this week, I am including actual television programs among the competition. Tuesday at the New Amsterdam Theatre, near the start of its festive display of pan-American salesmanship, the Spanish-language titan marshaled impressive statistics and marched out network alumna Sofia Vergara to do some winsome shtick. It ended the presentation with a song-and-dance number. This is in itself no big deal; many a network will hire a multi-Grammy winner to croon its clients out of the door with a stripped-down number or bring on a house-made singing-contest winner to keep them alert. Univision raised the bar by delivering Shakira with eight back-up dancers, a full band, and indoor fireworks.
The pyrotechnics seemed an organic extension of the sizzling stats the network had offered. With the notable exception of NBC, which has little to gain by inviting close scrutiny of its ratings, most everyone this week is loudly spinning some numbers and flashily presenting a few graphs. (ABC, in an annual tradition of inventing new metrics, broke out a chart asserting that viewers of its hits buy more stuff than do fans of comparably rated shows on other network.) But Univision’s data proved impressive in the crispness of their presentation and in the market dominance they suggested. Univision claims a 73 percent share of Spanish-language television, and it airs 48 of the 50 shows most popular among bilingual Hispanics. Last year, among young adults, it beat NBC 195 nights in prime time. To illustrate this last fact—and the pitch that companies should achieve “balance” by devoting 15 percent of their TV-ad budgets to the Spanish-speaking market—some stagehands wheeled out a prop seesaw laden with illuminated network logos, and a sales executive ordered the peacock to short out with fizzle. This was not necessarily the week’s cruelest joke at NBC’s expense, but it was the most memorable.
And the shows themselves? As someone whose 10th-grade Spanish is only acceptable in Ensenada dive bars, I am perhaps not the fittest judge of the shows that Univision and its cable properties will be offering this fall—and this summer, for that matter, the wrap-around programming schedule of novelas being no small part of their appeal to advertisers. But I will venture that the pipsqueak variety acts of Pequeños Gigantes 2 are plenty cute; that the identical-twin soap-operatics of La Otra Cara will capture a larger audience than the similarly themed Ringer; and that Por ella soy Eva, a cross-dressing action-romance described as “The Fugitive meets Tootsie” will provide more laughs than did Work It—as will the driest investigative segments on the 24-hour news channel Univision and ABC are preparing to launch. God willing, Work It is the last we’ll hear in English about tortured comedies of emasculation, silly yet self-serious. (ABC was too embarrassed to dwell upon Tim Allen’s reviled, renewed Last Man Standing on Tuesday.) By contrast, the new show, with its tongue in its rouged cheek, seems agreeably comfortable in its machismo.