Eva Longoria Talks NBC's 'Telenovela,' Diversity on TV

Eva Longoria

The former “Desperate Housewives” star, producer as well as star of “Telenovela,” says the character she plays closely resembles her in real life.

One show NBC announced recently is called Telenovela, a reference to a popular drama form on Spanish TV. But it is not a Hispanic show, Eva Longoria insisted on a panel at NATPE on Thursday.

“Our show is not a Latin show,” said Longoria, who is starring in and a producer of the show being developed by NBC. “The perspective is basically mine. It’s about a telenovela star who doesn’t speak Spanish.”

Longoria stars in the comedic primetime soap opera as diva Ana Maria, star of a popular telenovela. Ana Maria has to work to stay on top in a world where there is as much drama behind the scenes as there is on the screen.

Longoria said she only recently has started to learn Spanish even though she grew up in a Hispanic home in the U.S. “I don’t speak Spanish,” said Longoria, “but I have strong ties to my culture. That’s what we’re trying to do. It’s a mainstream show that has lots of Latin culture.”

Longroria spoke on a panel at NATPE called “Sharpening the focus: How U.S. networks are engaging the Hispanic audience.”

“Diversity means more than black people on television,” said Longoria. “We’ve seen an amazing increase in black writers, and other talent.”

Longoria and her producing partners have sold eight shows to various networks in the past year and while several hark to her Latino heritage, she said she wants to be seen more broadly in show business.

“It’s about content," said Longoria, who starred in Desperate Housewives and is a producer of the show Devious Maids. “I’m not the Hispanic go to producer. That’s not what I set out to do. A lot of the shows we develop happen to have interesting, diverse characters, a lot of female characters. And about half are organically Hispanic characters.”

The challenge, added Longoria, has not been selling show but getting them through development and actually on the air. “That’s the big obstacle,” said Longoria. “Do they want to develop it? That’s amazing. That’s wonderful! ... But I want to get it out of the incubator and onto networks.”

Vernon Sanders, executive vp, comedy programming, for NBC Entertainment indicated that Telenovela is on track. He said it is the centerpiece of NBC’s comedy development at present.

On a panel that was about diversity, Sanders said working with Longoria and a diverse group in front of and behind the camera has been an eye opener.

“Our experience,” said Sanders, “with Telenovela is that already, the talent we have brought in, are people we have never seen in the room before. We’re blown away by how great they are.”

Keli Lee, executive vp, talent and casting, ABC Entertainment Group, said that while there is still a long way to go they are making strides on presenting more diverse casts.

Lee said a series of programs to find more diverse acting talent that have been in place at ABC since 2001 are paying off with actors now in shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Jane The Virgin.

Longoria said the biggest challenge for her has been to find good writers and to understand the new world of marketing which now includes social media.

Panel moderator Christy Haubegger, an agent at CAA, noted that Longoria has about eight million followers on Twitter which is more than The CW Network.

“I feel like I’m reborn again,” said Longoria.

The panel was almost disrupted about half way through when the fire alarm went off in the Fontainebleau Hotel and an amplified voice told everyone to leave the building. Instead, a NATPE executive rushed out to say it was a false alarm, and the panel continued even as the bleeps, sirens and voice of doom continued for several more minutes.