Leila Cobo, Reuters, May 3, 2008
It’s trashy. It’s racy. It’s deliciously over-the-top, with lots of bare-chested hunks, bikini-clad women and plenty of catfights, fistfights and dramatic deaths.
Welcome to “Viva Hollywood,” the first Latin-themed show on music channel VH1.
A reality show where contestants vie for a role in a Telemundo soap opera as well as a cash prize, “Viva” is a loud celebration of soap opera culture, featuring singer/actors Maria Conchita Alonso (dressed in brazenly provocative outfits) and Carlos Ponce as hosts and Latin fortunetelling icon Walter Mercado (who is known to Latinos everywhere for his flowing cape and lipstick) as sidekick.
The soundtrack to “Viva” is mostly reggaeton, and its theme song has Spanish lyrics, but it’s not a music-themed show. Its absolute embrace of Latin culture, however, is compelling and noteworthy for a channel that has generally been closed to Latin content, Spanish-language fare in particular. In the past decade, VH1 has played only a handful of Spanish-language videos in its rotation.
“We realize that every time we tap into an audience that hasn’t seem themselves in mainstream television, we win,” VH1 executive vice president of programming and development Jeff Olde said. “And there were 12 million viewers that didn’t see themselves in the network. We were looking for something.”
“We’re obsessed with pop culture and very much in love with Latin culture and the intersection of the two,” said filmmaker Randy Barbato (“The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” “Inside Deep Throat”), who’s a partner in World of Wonder and executive producer of “Viva.” “And we’re very aware that while so much of Latin television is hugely popular in America, it isn’t always translated into mainstream channels.”
Now, “Viva” is the “only show where you have Latin stars who are known in the mainstream—like Perez Hilton, Daisy Fuentes, Charo and Cheech Marin—together with eminently Latin celebrities like Christian de la Fuente, Angelica Vale and Sofia Vergara,” Latin World president Luis Balaguer said.
“Viva” also stands out because many of its contestants speak heavily accented English. And its telenovela scenes are in Spanish, with English subtitles.