"Very few formats would work just directly as they are in the Hispanic market," Liberman cautioned. "You can take a general dance type program, but you have to change it pretty materially to make it appeal to our market."
Ergo, Estrella's "Dancing With the Stars" equivalent, "Mi Sue o es Bailar" ("My Dream Is to Dance") adds to the mix of celebrity and professional hoofers a segment that enables each show's winner to grant the wish of a poor Latino family, such as providing nursing school tuition for a young farmworker who cares for her diabetic brother.
The network's top-rated show is "Tengo Talento, Mucho Talento" ("I Have Talent, Lots of Talent"). It's their version of "America's Got Talent."
"Estudio 2," Estrella's pop music showcase, incorporates comedy skits and amateur acts on its high tech, video-and-light-show ready stages -- which, like many aspects of Estrella's shows, were the work of general audience craftspeople, in this case the guy who designed "American Idol's" set.
While Liberman seems to be in tune with his audience, his ideas aren't always viable in the increasingly mainstream world that Hispanic television is evolving into. Earlier this month, Estrella canceled a comic show that had been running on the local, Liberman-owned station, KRCA Channel 62, for years before the network was born, due to complaints about host Jose Luis' homophobic jokes.
Then there was the 2009 Estrella game show "Gana La Verde" ("Win the Green").
"It was kind of like 'Fear Factor,' but the prize was the services of a top-notch immigration law firm to pursue your legal papers," Liberman said with a sly grin. "The show was hugely successful with our audience, but advertisers and other folks didn't quite appreciate it as much, so we canceled the show."
But that kind of edgy entertainment was what Estrella had to do in the beginning, Liberman said.
"Because our budgets were limited, we had to make a splash somehow, so 'Gana la Verde' was a splash. Today, I'm a network across some 60 markets and you have to grow up, right? I think we've grown up and changed. Our shows really are just very entertaining and not controversial."
Liberman's 87-year-old father, Jose, who still comes to work every day, emigrated from Mexico to L.A. in the late 1940s. Initially in the pharmaceutical business, the elder Liberman bought a few radio stations, retired, and then formed Liberman Broadcasting with his son in 1988. The company now owns 20 radio (including Que Buena locally) and nine television stations around the country, making it the largest minority-owned outfit of its kind in the nation.
With almost all of its shows produced in-house to Hollywood-style standards, Estrella seems to be reflecting, like the larger culture itself, the blending of Anglo and Latin approaches.
"It's a great opportunity because we're a growing network and we're the largest producer of Spanish-language programming in the U.S.," noted Estrella's head of production Ivan Stoilkovich, a Hollywood veteran of Czech heritage. "We're really on the ground floor of developing the market and custom tailor our programming to Hispanics in the U.S."
Even though most of his on-air talent is still recruited from Mexico, the hemisphere's largest Spanish media producer, Liberman hopes to eventually change that, too.
"Really, the (U.S.) Hispanic market has not done a very good job of creating new and exciting programming and outside producers," Liberman said. "I'm starting to work with folks in the general market to produce shows for the Hispanic market, and the idea there is just to open up the creative talent to make more great programming that hasn't been produced before."
That's also his plan for survival in the seemingly ever-more-crowded Hispanic TV market.
"If you offer an alternative, I think you can be successful," Liberman said. "If you're going to do what everyone else does, it's very competitive and it could be very tough."
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