Arraras turns up heat at Telemundo

Apr 29, 2002  •  Post A Comment

During Maria Celeste Arraras’ 10 years at Univision, she won the hearts of Hispanics in the United States and 15 Latin American countries, broke records on the Internet and in publishing and basically proved she doesn’t need to reinvent herself.
Telemundo, her new home, is trying to do just that.
The Spanish-language network, newly acquired by NBC and tired of trailing Univision, stole Ms. Arraras away from its rival to host “Al Rojo Vivo con Maria Celeste,” an hour-long weekday newsmagazine whose title roughly translates into “What’s Hot.”
The show will take a format popular with Hispanic audiences, who love stories involving scandal, celebrity, UFOs and two-headed toads, and kick it up a notch. “I call it a news paella,” said Ms. Arraras, who is managing editor as well as anchor of “Al Rojo Vivo.” “It’s a mixture of `Entertainment Tonight,’ `Extra’ and local news, all with a local news flavor.”
“It’s something that doesn’t exist in the general marketplace,” said Joe Peyronnin, executive VP of news and information programming for Telemundo.
In addition to Latin news wraps, health segments and roundups of conversation-starting video, photos, soundbites and quotes, there also will be a daily immigration bulletin.
“There’s almost no story that’s more important to our audience,” said Mr. Peyronnin, who joined Telemundo in the late ’90s to build the news department that produces newscasts and magazines on the network. He has also overseen the rollout of news operations at 10 broadcast stations owned by Telemundo, which reaches nearly 90 percent of the country’s Hispanic households.
During a long career at CBS News (where wife Susan Zirinsky is executive producer of “48 Hours”) and a couple of years at then news-light Fox, he had experienced a traditional news organization being remade to meet more demanding and less free-spending times as well as the entrepreneurial approach of News Corp.
“Al Rojo Vivo” will be produced with a staff that’s 50 percent to 60 percent the size of general-market newsmagazine staffs. But it and the other news programs at Telemundo have access to NBC News content, ideas, coverage plans and talent.
Ms. Arraras, an Emmy winner who is to make occasional appearances in NBC network productions and will executive produce specials for Telemundo, is a big get for the Spanish-language network. Her only online chat broke the participant record that had been set by Ricky Martin.
Mr. Peyronnin said he code-named Telemundo’s closely held courtship of Ms. Arraras “Diane” because, “In many ways she reminds me of the power, strength and intelligence of Diane Sawyer.”