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NUVOtv CEO on the Network's Relaunch, New Programming and Jennifer Lopez's Involvement (Q&A)

Jennifer Lopez NuvoTV - P 2013
NuvoTV
"Jennifer Lopez: Her Life. Her Journey."

Michael Schwimmer talks to THR about what viewers can expect when the English-language channel targeting Latinos kicks off its new lineup Thursday night.

NUVOtv viewers will get their first look at the network's new programming lineup Thursday night with the premiere of a Jennifer Lopez biography special.

The channel -- which launched as Si TV in 2004 before rebranding seven years later -- touts itself as the first English-language television network created for "modern" Latinos. As part of its relaunch, the network in May hired Lopez as its chief creative officer. (She first joined forces with the channel in September via a marketing and production partnership through her production company, Nuyorican Productions, that made her a part owner.) Also in May, former Comedy Central executive Bill Hilary was named head of programming.

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As part of NUVOtv's rebrand initiatives, which began rolling out out July 1, the network is getting a new on-air look with a new logo, color palette and tagline, "We Are It." The network website also got a "refresh."

In addition to the Lopez special -- titled Jennifer Lopez: Her Life. Her Journey. -- new programming includes A Step Away, a behind-the-scenes look at the lives of Lopez's backup dancers as they tour with the singer; House of Joy, a docuseries starring Grammy-winning music producer Rodney "Dark Child" Jerkins; Anjelah Johnson: The Homecoming Show, a comedy special starring the YouTube sensation and former MADtv co-star; and Mario Lopez: One on One, an interview series whose guests will include Eva Longoria, George Lopez, Gloria Estefan, Pepe Aguilar andJuanes.

Ahead of the network's relaunch, CEO Michael Schwimmer talked to The Hollywood Reporter about what viewers can expect, why the time was right for a relaunch and how Lopez is contributing in the channel's growth.

The Hollywood Reporter: What was the impetus for this relaunch?

Michael Schwimmer: It was a couple years in the making. But the network itself serves a very underserved audience -- English-speaking Latinos. Until we came along, they were basically asked to watch Spanish-language programming, which didn't really relate to their lives. … So we got going with [the relaunch plans] and had been doing it for a little while, and ultimately, Jennifer Lopez being, if you will, not only a global icon but also an icon for our target audience, the American Latino community -- we found each other. She is in her own very special place within the entertainment world and for our audience, and we are the only existing cable network that programs to Latinos in English. So it was natural that we find each other.

THR: How did the partnership originally come about? Who approached whom?

Schwimmer: It's a small world, right? The best way to put it is, we did find each other.

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THR: Your relaunch kicks off with a special about Jennifer Lopez. Can you talk a little about that?

Schwimmer: The relaunch includes some important elements of Jennifer on the air and behind the camera, but I just want to make clear that the relaunch doesn't focus on her completely. There are a number of other shows we have on the air. [Thursday] night, we do have Jennifer at the center. It's a really great bio special with her that will be an intimate look at her life. She's had a lot of press and scrutiny over time, and people will really get a chance to understand her in a better way from people who know her very, very well, including a lot of her family and people who were there at the beginning of her career. It will show how she got to where she is now. I think it will be inspirational. A Step Away, of course, is about her backup dancers, who make Jennifer look great but don't normally get the credit they deserve. Our series dives deep into what it's like to be a world-class dancer, who travels all over the world, but is really a couple steps away from the main attraction. It's a very interesting look at a world most people don't get to see.

THR: What role is Jennifer playing in the day-to-day of the network?

Schwimmer: She is our chief creative officer, and what that means is she's involved in all things of a creative nature, including not only the look and feel of the network but the programming on-air, the marketing and press planning, and she does other things as well. She meets with distributors and top decision-makers on Capitol Hill. She gives opinions on programming that doesn't even come from her own production company. She is involved in every aspect of our business in one form or another.

THR: It sounds like she's very hands-on.

Schwimmer: She is. Some people might find that hard to believe, given how busy she is and how many interests she has, but she's one of the hardest-working people in Hollywood. We don't have a typical celebrity endorsement relationship. It's not her face on the network and us trying to get awareness by putting her on the ads; it's a deeper, more multifaceted relationship.

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THR: What is your overall programming strategy?

Schwimmer: There are a number of genres which we know are really important to our target audience. Music, obviously, is a big one, and we're kicking off with a bio special into someone known for her music. A Step Away is about backup dancers on a concert tour, and there are more announcements forthcoming about future music projects. Comedy also is important to our audience, and I think people will find House of Joy really funny, which is based on Rodney Jerkins' life. There are also music elements to that show. Anjelah Johnson, who many people know from YouTube, is selling out arenas around the country every time she goes on tour for her stand-up act. Music and comedy are our big tentpoles for the network. We also have Mario Lopez doing something you won't find anywhere else on TV -- interviewing really big, top Latino talent. This is a home to see those sort of interviews that otherwise wouldn't be available. Movies with strong Latino lead characters and story lines also are important to us.

THR: How do you determine what type of show is the right fit for NUVOtv? What do you look for?

Schwimmer: It's about storytelling, finding great stories that touch people in a way that is different than what is currently available. It's about providing differentiated content for our audience. We have a mission to fulfill, to provide a home for American Latinos on the dial. To do that, the content has to be high-quality, something people find authentic without any kind of stereotypes. If the stories are great, not only will our target Latino audience want to come and watch, but anybody can come and watch. If we do the job right, anyone will want to watch.

THR: Do you have a sweet spot in your target demo that you try to hit?

Schwimmer: We target 18-34, and some shows might skew more toward the 34 and some a little bit younger. Also from an ad sales perspective, advertisers who target the 18-49 demo will find a lot of value with our network as well. It depends on the show.

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THR: What's the makeup of your viewership?

Schwimmer: It's slightly more women than men, but not by much.

THR: Where are you at in terms of distribution?

Schwimmer: We're out there trying to get in more homes every day. We're in 33 million homes, and the good news is that most distributors out there really recognize the importance of our audience. So Dish Network, Time Warner Cable, AT&T, Verizon -- they all do a great job of understanding how to grow their business in the Latino community and understand how we represent the bridge for them. Others either don't get it or are slower or less sensitive to the needs of this community. That includes DirecTV, for example. In general, we're making great progress and think that over time, others will understand the wisdom of really embracing the Latino community.

THR: What else is noteworthy about your relaunch?

Schwimmer: With the relaunch -- because we didn't just get started yesterday -- what's important for people to understand is it's really a major commitment, to do the things that are necessary, that means an increased level of activity in our marketing and a much deeper investment in programming. And, as a result of that, what will be an unwavering commitment to drive demand for the network.

THR: By how much have you increased your programming and marketing investments?

Schwimmer: I won't comment on actual numbers, but I would say this: If you tune in on Thursday night, you're going to get a very good idea of the level of commitment we've made. It's really high-quality programming for any network, let alone a network of our size.

Jennifer Lopez: Her Life. Her Journey. debuts 8 p.m. ET/PT on Thursday. Watch a preview below.