Melendez and Carias-Linares Making it happen on National Television
By Mina Castillo
In September of 2016, producer/comedienne Kiki Melendez’s Latin Hollywood Films presented the first-ever independent Television Sizzle Reel Upfronts in NYC & Los Angeles. Produced by Julia Carias-Linares (in partnership with Latin Heat Media Institute, a non profit organization) the two events showcased eleven original presentations across genres with multicultural talent in-front and behind the camera. Melendez and Carias-Linares then went on to brokering a deal for one of the concepts presented, and exactly a year and two days after the sizzle reel upfronts, on September 17th, Kiki Mobile, one of the eleven presentations, premiered on A+E Networks’ lifestyle channel FYI Television for a 13-episode run.
The Kiki Mobile is a one-hour variety “talk show on wheels”, always on the move…literally because interviews are conducted in the Kiki Mobile RV. A traveling variety show highlighting celebrities and influencers, sports figures, with man-on-the-street interviews, skits, and always finding and spotlighting up-and-coming talent.
The RV idea came from Sarkis Semeryan of Jear Entertainment, a major investor, partner and executive producer of the show. When Melendez related the troubles she had while shooting Kiki Desde Hollywood with lighting and sound Semeryan suggested the RV and thereby coming up with the first mobile talk show in America!
It is not that far fetched to say that a bit of history was made when an independent Latina owned production company got a one hour TV show on a national TV network, while keeping full creative control and ownership.
There are literally thousands of ideas for a TV show every year and only five to twelve series actually make it on air. In fact, according to industry insiders nearly 90% of all show ideas never make it. But Melendez and Carias-Linares were determined and took a cue from TV mogul Byron Allen (Entertainment Studios), whose business model of owning his TV shows and splitting commercial time with networks made him a billionaire.
“It’s a huge gamble, but someone has to do it for our community,” said Kiki Melendez. “But
Melendez is one of the first female comedians to successfully produce for English and Spanish language television. In the late 90’s Melendez produced and hosted the first bilingual show Kiki Desde Hollywood, on Galavision, a Spanish Language network. It became the #1 entertainment show when it premiered with2.6 millions viewers and averaged a 1.6 rating throughout the season. Her Showtime comedy special Kiki Melendez Hot Tamales Live was such a hit, it aired from 2009-2011. Most recently she produced the Spanish language stand-up comedy specials Locos Y Contentos for Estrella Network which premiered of 1.4
With Kiki Mobile the focus is on building this brand for years to come.
Julia Carias-Linares is a producer and television executive whose career trajectory has taken her into TV, motion pictures, short films, commercials and digital content. Carias-Linares’ expertise is in sourcing projects, developing talent and securing intellectual properties. She is currently in the TV Development & Programming for the FYI, Network.
“As someone who’s been in the development room and greenlight meetings for the past 4 years, I have seen thousands of pitches, and know firsthand, how difficult it is to sell a show now-a-days, Carias-Linares recounted. “As a producer, it is my job to identify good content. As a Latina, I feel compelled to advocate for good projects and or content creators who highlight our culture. So, I decided to stop complaining about the lack of diversity in Hollywood and focused in finding a way to make a change.”
“I love the great multi-cultural talent we are showcasing every episode on Kiki Mobile, it makes me feel like we are making a real difference while also growing our brand,” says Melendez
She confides that everyone says “Congratulations you made it” but that it’s a major challenge trying to make sure that people know about the show, “It has been all through grass roots efforts and praying to all the Gods,” Melendez says laughingly.
The Need for Community Support
In 2016, the Media, Diversity & Social Change (MDSC) Initiative at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism found that Latinos only make up 2-3% of broadcast and cable roles, yet are 17% of the U.S. population Many Latino organizations are consistently speaking out, protesting, lobbying and meeting with the networks, as in the case of the Hispanic National Media Coalition. However change is slow in materializing.
Why wait for the major networks to respond? Maybe getting behind shows that are independently produced and already on the air would be another option to seeing more Latinos productions on air. Supporting the shows that just need that extra push, but lack the marketing budgets.
The African-American community already has an unspoken support system in place and they are a good marker for what might work for Latinos in Hollywood. The success of Shonda Rhimes and Tyler Perry, just to name two, has resulted in more African-American being cast as network show leads or African-American themed shows. The support of the Black community can be tracked to organizations like the First Weekend Club, which promotes African-Americans go see Black films the first weekend they premiere. The NAACP Image Awards will celebrate 49 years of supporting their community by honoring their work. Latinos have no high profile awards show that support the achievements of Latino talent in front and behind the camera or their version of the First Weekend Club.
“We need to support each other to share our stories and make sure indie projects survive the game because that will open doors for other projects, other producers,” explained Carias-Linares.
Independent productions could be instrumental in leveling the playing field especially if the producers have already done the heavy lifting and gotten their shows on TV. And if Hollywood insists on ignoring Latinos, Latinos would be wise to consider looking within their own community and supporting Latino produced content.
“I don’t think that as a community we truly understand how POWERFUL our unified voices can be,” Carias-Linares enthused. “We are such a valuable demographic. The networks and studios will have to pay attention once we come together.”
Did I mention that this “dynamic duo” is intent on making their show a success? And as they say, not just for themselves, but more importantly — for the community.