By Lee Alan Hill
Special to TelevisionWeek
With a sense that achievement in Spanish-language
television has not received adequate recognition in competitive Emmy areas, the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (also known as the National Television Academy) will issue honorary awards to six distinguished leaders in that arena at the organization’s annual trustees dinner June 3 in San Antonio .
Cutting across all dayparts and fields of TV, the six honorees are Jorge Ramos, the No. 1 newscaster in Spanish-language television; Maria Celeste Arraras, the host of “Al Rojo Vivo con Maria Celeste”; Mario Kreutzberger, who under his stage name, Don Francisco, has hosted the variety show “Sábado Gigante” for more than 40 years; Andrés Cantor, the renowned voice of soccer on Telemundo; Verónica Castro, actress and variety show host; and Ray Rodriguez, president and chief operating officer of Univision.
“The idea was to look at Spanish television and honor those who not only have great achievement but who have been leaders,” said Raul Mateu, the William Morris Agency’s Latin American division head, who chaired the committee that chose the honorees.
“Spanish-language achievement can compete in national and regional Emmys, but with the exception of the news area, they have not won the award,” Mr. Mateu said. “In news, the judges can see a transcript, but in other areas, how do you compete when the judges don’t speak the language or do not understand the cultural significance of the programming?”
Academy President Peter Price said the kudos are being regarded as “honorary awards for the achievements of these six leaders of Spanish-language television” rather than special Emmys. “We did not want people to think they are being honored in peer group competition,” he said.
Nor, Mr. Price said, should the awards be thought of as Latin Emmys. “There is a sense with that word that you are honoring people who are not part of the American television landscape, and these individuals all are,” he said. “And some of the individuals are foreign-born, some are American-born, some have grandmothers who are American-born. They work in Spanish-language TV, which the academy is saying is not separate from but a part of American TV.”
“It’s great that there will be more attention paid to Spanish television,” said Mr. Cantor, who, while being known for broadcasting soccer in Spanish, first for Univision and now for Telemundo, has also announced the sport in English as part of NBC’s Olympics coverage.
“I think it’s a recognition that in some markets the Spanish-language TV station is first or second in audience in some dayparts,” Mr. Cantor said. “This means that the academy is paying attention. I feel myself to be a part of soccer, a part of TV and radio, not just a Spanish-language broadcaster.”
The genesis of NATAS’ recognition of these TV leaders dates back some three years. When Mr. Price began his tenure as president of NATAS in September 2002, he said, he visited each of the 20 local branches of the organization to learn more about what was unique in their markets. He said he discovered that in many areas Spanish-language TV was growing not just as a part of the TV tapestry but as a part of the academy as well. Of the 13,000 NATAS members nationwide, 500 to 1,000 work in Spanish-language TV.
“There had to be a way to recognize the contributions of Spanish TV to the industry and the viewers,” Mr. Price said. “Some programs and individuals had won local Emmys competing against Spanish and English programs in various categories, but there was such an array of achievement. We thought there should be more notice paid.”
The historical lack of attention is even more glaring, he said, in light of the fact that Spanish-language television has grown to serve 40 million to 45 million viewers, as opposed to roughly 12 million 20 years ago, according to NATAS statistics.
In considering how to create an award, Mr. Price said he first addressed the basics. “Where do you stage the awards? How many awards do you do? Do you make it an Emmy Award or some other sort of recognition? How do you make it ecumenical? How do you balance it between programs, management and talent? And how do you give awards without saying that Spanish TV is separate, when those who work in Spanish TV are members of the academy and participate in the academy alongside everyone else?”
Another issue was how to present such awards. NATAS explored whether they should be blended with all the Emmys, whether there should be a special gala for them or even whether they could be part of a fund-raiser.
Mr. Price said he enlisted the aid of Mr. Mateu, who gathered seven other leaders of Spanish-language media-none of them academy members-to decide whom to honor and how to handle the presentations.
“The criteria, we decided, should be looking at a body of work,” Mr. Mateu said. “We should honor people who have distinguished careers in Spanish television for a period of time. All of those being honored can present accomplishments as good as anyone in the English-language world, and all selections were unanimous.”
It was decided to present the awards during the black-tie gala at the academy’s annual trustees’ meeting. Mr. Price called it “a happy coincidence” that it would take place in San Antonio, “a city with a large and vibrant Spanish-speaking community and where Spanish TV has a large audience and great appeal.”
The media will be in attendance and the event will be covered by TV news, but the awards will not be televised. The site, San Antonio’s McNay Art Museum, will accommodate only 300 at the dinner, and NATAS made no effort to move to a different venue to increase that number because, Mr. Price said, “We wanted it to be a warm and more intimate evening.”
SBC is sponsoring the dinner. Ed Whitacre, chairman and CEO of SBC Communications, said in a statement that the company considers it “a pleasure to be part of this historic event.”
It has not been determined whether other leaders from Spanish-language TV will be honored in the future. Mr. Mateu would like to see it happen. Mr. Price said there are no specific plans, but added, “We’ll address that as a possibility.”
“Twenty years ago, most Spanish TV in the U.S. was imported from elsewhere,” Mr. Mateu said. “Today this country exports Spanish-language programming. U.S. Hispanic television programming is actually dictating what other countries are now doing. Those from other countries now want to work here.
“The National TV Academy is recognizing not only individuals, but this trend.”
Honorary trustee awards for spanish-language television
Recognizing: Leadership in Spanish-language television
Administered by: The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences
Date of ceremony: June 3
Cocktails: 6 p.m.
Awards presentation: 7 p.m.
Black-tie dinner: 8 p.m.
Location: McNay Art Museum, San Antonio
Ceremony sponsor: SBC Communications
Honorees: Andr%E9;s Cantor, Ver%F3;nica Castro, Maria Celeste Arraras, Mario Kreutzberger (aka Don Francisco), Jorge Ramos, Ray Rodriguez