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NATAS Awards: Six Who Shine in Whatever Language

Oct 16, 2006  •  Post A Comment

By Allison J. Waldman

Special to TelevisionWeek

This week, the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences will present for the second time its Leaders of Spanish-Language Television honors. The trustees of the academy have chosen six Hispanic TV stars who represent the best in Spanish-language news, talk shows, telenovelas and sports programming, including one of the most popular Latino stars in the world, Cristina Saralegui, who has hosted Univision’s immensely popular “Cristina” for 18 years.

“It’s very flattering to be included, especially since it’s for Spanish television,” said Ms. Saralegui, who is often referred to as “Oprah with salsa.” “And you know what’s really great-everyone else who’s getting [the award] are friends of mine, and they have all been on my show.”

“Spanish-language television is an important part of the television landscape, with close to 40 million viewers nationwide and growing,” said Peter Price, president and CEO of NATAS, also known as the National Television Academy. “These honorees represent the best in Spanish-language TV.”

The other winners are also veteran Spanish-language TV stars. Fernando Arau is the host of Univision’s top-rated morning talk show, “¡Despierta América!”; Saul Lisazo stars in Telemundo’s hit telenovela “Tierra de Pasiones” and many other popular Spanish-language soap operas; and Jessi Losada is Telemundo’s leading sports broadcaster, whose reporting experience spans the Olympics to the World Cup to NFL football games. Another honoree is music and TV diva Lucero, currently on Televisa’s “Alborada.” Rounding out the group is Maria Elena Salinas, “Noticiero Univision” anchorwoman and one of the most respected Spanish-language TV broadcasters.

“We’re trying to keep all of our graduates from mass communications and broadcasting to try to work in both languages because that doubles their chances to get jobs and make money,” said Ms. Saralegui. “I remember when I was younger, if you worked in Spanish that was the equivalent of having not made it. It didn’t matter how big you made it. If you were in the States and didn’t make a crossover, your success didn’t matter. This award means it mattered.”

The committee that chose this year’s honorees is populated by professionals in related fields, including Andres Cantor, sports anchor for Telemundo; Maria Celeste Arraras, host and managing editor of Telemundo’s “Al Rojo Vivo con Maria Celeste”; Gilbert Davila, VP of multicultural marketing for The Walt Disney Co.; Jackie Hernandez-Fallous, publisher of People en Español; Mario “Don Francisco” Kreutzberger, host of Univision’s “Sabado Gigante”; Jorge Ramos, Univision news anchor; Manny Vidal, president and CEO of The Vidal Partnership; and Antoinette Zel, senior executive VP of network strategy for Telemundo. After a series of deliberations, the committee made its recommendations to the National Awards Committee of the National Television Academy.

When Mr. Price arrived at the organization four years ago, he recognized the need for a Spanish-language accolade. “In our national awards, be they prime-time, daytime, sports or news, none of the most senior people in Spanish-language were being recognized,” he said. In daytime, for example, Spanish-language telenovelas couldn’t be categorized with American soap operas.

“It was like apples and oranges,” he said. “There were significant differences in news, sports and entertainment as well. The issue is not Hispanic or Latino or some ethnic handle that describes where a person’s parents came from or some ethnic description of who they were. It had really to do with language. That’s why we’re very careful to describe this as recognition of people in the Spanish-language television business. It’s really language that defines the field they work in rather than ethnicity.”

“We had to find a way to recognize the most prominent people in Spanish-language TV who were not getting recognized,” said Mr. Price. “We didn’t really have a mechanism for it, in terms of judging panels and such. It required a lot of collaboration and it seemed the best way was to put together an organizing committee of leaders in Spanish-language television and ask them to nominate the first six people-a year ago-for special recognition.”

In 2005 the honorees were Jorge Ramos, known as the Walter Cronkite of Spanish-language TV; Maria Celeste Arraras, “Al Rojo Vivo con Maria Celeste” host; Mario Kreutzberger, aka Don Francisco, longtime star of “Sábado Gigante”; Andres Cantor, Telemundo’s soccer analyst and creator of the classic “Gooooaaaal!” call; Verónica Castro, actress and TV host; and Univision President and CEO Ray Rodriguez. The 2006 Leaders of Spanish-Language Television Awards are being sponsored by AT&T, Moet Hennessy and People en Español.

Heading for Broadway

Last year’s presentation was held in San Antonio, but this time the ceremony is Broadway-bound. The awards will be held in New York, presented Oct. 19 at the Time-Life Building. According to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, snagging the awards is big deal.

“New York is the home to the world’s biggest media companies, the nation’s second-largest Spanish-language television market and the most diverse Latin population of any city in the world,” Mr. Bloomberg said in a press release. “Bringing the `Latin Emmys’ to the world’s biggest stage will help us to continue to make our city the epicenter of Latin media and entertainment.”

Honoree Jessi Losada is thrilled that the award presentation is in the Big Apple. “That just makes it even more exciting,” he said. “To be in New York and see all my peers, I’m really looking forward to it. I’m extremely happy and I’m very happy that I am only the second sportscaster to receive this award, the other person being Andres Cantor, my friend and co-worker.”

Another honoree is actor Saul Lisazo. “To be in this business and be recognized by your peers is an honor,” Mr. Lisazo said.

Carlos Ponce, multitalented television host, actor and award-winning singer-songwriter, will host the ceremony. Among the presenters are Mexican film director Alfonso Arau (“Like Water for Chocolate”); TV personality Patty Chapoy (Azteca America’s “Ventaneando”); talk show host Maria Antonieta Collins (Telemundo’s “Cada Dia Con Maria Antonieta”); telenovela actor Erick Elias (“El Cuerpo del Deseo”); Mr. Kreutzberger; Ray Rodriguez, president and chief operating officer of Univision Communications; and Jorge Hidalgo, senior executive VP of news and sports for Telemundo.

Mr. Price anticipates many more years of Spanish-language honors. The awards, he said, “elevate that recognition in order to honor how prominent members of the Spanish-language community have contributed to make this sector one of the fastest-growing and most robust segments of the United States television industry.”