Daily News article by: Robert Dominguez
When Kiki Melendez finally got frustrated with the dearth of opportunities for herself and other Latino talent on both sides of the camera, the Dominican-born actress, writer and director came up with a seemingly simple plan to change the situation.
She’d produce her own TV projects to create those opportunities — and then make damn sure the Hollywood establishment knew all about it.
“When you’re in Hollywood so many years you learn how it’s become a very closed community, and unless you’re a proven hit-maker you don’t get to play in the game,” Melendez says.
A comic actress raised in the upper Manhattan section of Inwood by a single mom, Melendez is best-known for producing and appearing in the sketch comedy series “Hot Tamales Live!” and hosting the bilingual Galavision show “Kiki Desde Hollywood.”
But as a co-founder of Latin Hollywood Films, an L.A.-based production company, Melendez became hellbent on showing the networks what they were missing out on.
Last week in New York, Melendez and her production team devised a unique way to pitch East Coast TV execs on shows created by and starring a myriad of multicultural talent that would also appeal to mainstream viewers.
She got them under one roof for a one-hour presentation comprised of short “sizzle reel” previews showcasing nearly a dozen potential series produced by Latin Hollywood Films — everything from sitcoms and talk shows to reality series and dramas.
Among the diverse crop of actors, writers and directors recruited for the so-called upfont were Paul Rodriguez, Guy Ecker, Will Rothhaar, Henry Rollins, Shari Belafonte, Jason Gedrick and Sofia Milos.
“As an Italian-American actress in Hollywood, I’ve had my share of obstacles regarding ethnicity in booking great roles,” says Milos, currently on CBS’ “Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders.”
“I love and support Kiki’s vision that recognizes talent and embraces the diversity.”
“We wanted to think outside the casting box,” Melendez says. “We set out to get some green-lightable talent and good material, shoot it right, and then show them what we’re capable of.”
The upfront, which Melendez will repeat Oct. 13 in Hollywood, made a strong impression on some of the New York executives in attendance.
“I think events like this show that there’s clearly an undiscovered pool of strong, creative talent in the Latino community for the entertainment industry to tap into,” says Evan Lerner, a programming exec at A&E Television.
“And what they’re creating isn’t content just for an Hispanic audience. These storytellers, actors and writers know how to appeal to a wide, mainstream audience.”
Liz Fine, v.p. development and programming for FYI Network, says the upfronts are “an important must-attend event for every network executive. The projects (are) above industry standards as far as production and entertainment value. This event is a reminder that ‘diversity’ is not simply a buzzword but a word that often represents a pool of untapped talent.
“As soon as we recognize this as an industry and embrace those who have often been overlooked, the sooner we all gain from the abundance of their talent,” Fine adds.
Melendez says a handful of networks have so far expressed interest in at least five of the pilots, which means the plan is paying off so far.
“The goal is to create cutting-edge series that come from a diversity of people, and not be pigeonholed as a Latino content creator, but as a creator,” Melendez says.
“And the only way to continue to do that is to get at least one of them picked up.”
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