Jencarlos Canela, Eva Longoria and Jose Moreno Brooks in “Telenovela” (Danny Feld/NBC)
According to the 2015 Hollywood Diversity Report released by the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African-American Studies at UCLA, Latinos are the most underrepresented group in Hollywood. Though Hispanics make up 17 percent of the U.S. population, only two percent of characters on broadcast scripted shows were Hispanic. That’s about to change with the upcoming NBC comedy “Telenovela.”
Eva Longoria (“Desperate Housewives”) stars in this half-hour comedy as Ana Sofia, the star of a popular Spanish language soap opera. One problem: She doesn’t speak any Spanish. Other problems: Ana must manage a new boss, jealous castmates and high-maintenance best friends – and that’s all before her ex-husband is hired as her new onscreen love interest. Just like a real telenovela, this comedy is full of all kinds of drama, including love, hate, life and even death! Despite all the chaos, this telenovela’s cast and crew is a family … or, at least, they try to be. The cast includes Jencarlos Canela, Diana Maria Riva, Jose Moreno Brooks, Alex Meneses, Amaury Nolasco, Jadyn Douglas and Izzy Diaz.
Though “Telenovela” has a predominantly Latino cast, Longoria is quick to stress that its comedy will come across to anyone whether familiar with Latin soap operas or not.
“I’m Mexican-American, so sometimes people say, ‘Oh, I’m 50 percent Mexican; I’m 50 percent American,’ but I’m actually 100 percent Mexican and 100 percent American at all times. So it is a marriage of my values and beliefs that there have been communities that have long been ignored for talent, and the Latino community is one of them,” says the actress. “This is not a Latino comedy, this is a comedy that has universal themes of family, friendship, love and workplace.”
She elaborates further on the theme.
“There are a lot of [characters] that you’re going to be able to identify with, not because they’re Latino, but because they’re human beings dealing with different things in their lives. We deal with it through the comedic lens, but they’re still universal issues.”
Longoria became a household name on “Desperate Housewives.” Though that program was seemingly in the news more for its on-set drama than its high ratings, she insists that the on-set drama on “Telenovela” is inspired more from soap operas and telenovelas.
“I actually came from soap operas, from ‘Young and the Restless.’ There were a lot of divas in daytime soaps, and I remember the men were bigger divas than the women, in daytime,” she reveals. “I had a lot of friends in the telenovela world, and they would tell me stories. I had a friend from Venezuela who did soaps there. The lead of that show, her assistant was poisoning her in real life.”
Though “Desperate Housewives” went off the air in 2012, Longoria has been keeping busy.
“I focused completely on my foundation and my charity work, I was traveling the world and then I was directing and producing “Devious Maids” and other projects. I knew I wanted to turn to television, because television is my favorite medium of content. It is still. Television is at its best right now. It is so good,” she says. “I knew I would be back and do a comedy, because I had so much fun on ‘Housewives.’ But I did hit the lottery with ‘Housewives.’ I thought I’m not going to hit the lottery again.”
Though it’s rare for lightning to strike twice, Longoria couldn’t turn down the chance to produce and star in “Telenovela.”
“I had this idea for this show, and it was developed as an hour‑long, and then it was in development for a while. I never thought I would star in it. I just wanted to develop this idea. One day these two girls came into the office, and we were pitching them something else to write. Then I said, ‘Oh, and then there’s this other thing we have that we can’t figure out, because it’s so specific in my head. It’s called “Telenovela.”’ They said, ’We want to write that.’ And I kid you not, the first draft they wrote was so funny. I looked at Ben, my producing partner, and I said, ‘I’m going to have to be in this, aren’t I?’”
Maybe it is fate. There’s a dearth of comedies in general on broadcast television right now, let alone comedies with diverse casts. Add in one of the biggest television stars of the last decade and maybe Longoria has found the recipe to win the lottery again.
“Telenovela” previews two episodes after “The Voice” Dec. 7 at 10 p.m. “Telenovela” officially premieres Monday, Jan. 4 at 8:30 p.m. on NBC.