Interview Date: November 30, 2015
Interview Location: New York City, NY USA
Interviewer: Seth Arenstein
Collection: Cable Center Oral History Program
Arenstein: Hi, I’m Seth Arenstein. I’m here for the Hauser Oral History Project for the Cable Center. I’m here with Judi Lopez, SVP of Fuse Media, Affiliate, Distribution and Marketing.
Arenstein: Great. Welcome, Judi.
Lopez: Thank you. It’s nice to see you, Seth.
Arenstein: It’s good to be here with you. We’ll talk a little bit about your origins, your schooling, your career and maybe steps after that—maybe where you see the industry going. Where were you born, what were the circumstances, what did your parents do for a living?
Lopez: This is an interesting story. I love talking about my origin because I’m so proud of it and I’m proud of where I came from and my folks and my family in general, actually. I was born in a small town outside of Tucson, Arizona. My dad had just finished his master’s degree in teaching and that was his first job. I was only there three months and then we moved to California where I basically grew up. I grew up in Southern California, right outside of San Diego, in a town called Brawley, California. How we got there is my dad’s fraternity brother in college—my dad played college football in Arizona at NAU, and that’s where he met my mom. They’ve been married 57 years. So my dad came from a small mining town, mostly Mexican, and he had a football scholarship to play at Northern Arizona and my mother transferred from ASU to get away from her family to Northern Arizona University. And she met my dad. To this day, they still have the jukebox in the student center where my parents met and they go home for homecoming every year. So my dad always sends me pictures. “This is where your mom and I met. This is where we went on our first date.” So they still have this really nostalgic presence about them and they share that with us.
So they met in college. My mother’s English and she married my father and she had a rough go of it at home because it just wasn’t done. I didn’t really know my mother’s parents for a very long time. Her father, as a matter of fact—my grandmother I knew. My grandmother was also a teacher and my mother is also an educator. So they’re both educators. My mother was a college counselor; my dad was head of the administration in college counseling at the community college. He was the first Latino ever to be hired as a college counselor. And now after everything he’s done for Latinos in the Imperial Valley, the building bears his name. So it’s the Hector L. Lopez Student Center. And so when I was growing up he got his doctorate degree and my mother had her master’s and they worked together as a team. My mother would work at the high school and she would funnel all the talented kids—all the Latinos because she was in Calexico, which is 90% Mexican—to my dad to make sure that they got through college and on to the universities. Many, many students got through that system with my parents’ teamwork.
So I had that as a role model of excelling. There were no excuses in our house to excel. It was academics, academics, academics. My brother was also a gifted football player. He went on to also play college football. Then I have a younger sister who is a speech pathologist. So we all kind of grew up in that environment of excel, academics. We were the first Mexican family on our side, in our neighborhood. My parents broke a lot of ground. They always instilled in us pride and accomplishment and assimilation. So that was that generation, right? Of course, I’m second generation Mexican and I don’t speak Spanish. But my sister, who’s six years younger, that changed, and acculturation became more important. So my sister who is six years younger is completely fluent in Spanish. So we saw in our family that kind of wave. But since a very small age, I’ve always wanted to go into media and television. I didn’t really talk about it with my parents because it was something that coming from a small town—we were in a farming community and they were educators. Who had a concept of anyone—there were no role models of going into television or media. So it was basically just a dream. I followed my dad’s advice by the book. Go to college, you’re going to get this degree. My dad even told me what degree I was going to get. And he was like, “This is a good degree you should go into. It’s mostly dominated by men but there need to be women.” My dad was also pro-women. So he wanted me to go into engineering and accounting. He had everything mapped out for me.
So my junior year in college when I went away, I just said, “It’s not me, Dad.” I changed my major into marketing and of course excelled. I had a background in finance and I worked for a small company after that. I saw this little tiny ad in the New York Times. I’m sorry, the LA Times. I was living in Los Angeles at this time since I grew up in Southern California. I went to Cal Poly Pomona, which was more of an ag school and an engineering school and that’s why I went there. A little tiny ad—I don’t know if you ever remember if anybody’s here that’s been in the business that long. The Disney Channel logo was just ears and the mouse and it said, “Looking for internal auditors.” And my background was finance. So I submitted my resumé on a Friday, I got called on Monday, they hired me on Wednesday. It was the fastest I’ve ever interviewed and got hired in this industry. And I started out in internal audit. Disney Channel had their own internal audit. That was about the time Mark Handler was running affiliate sales. John Cook was the president of Disney Channel and eventually it evolved to Charlie Nooney who was running affiliate. They were converting from a pay service to a basic service. So it was something that I wanted to do. I was fascinated and I wanted to go into field sales. I was more of a sales person that a finance person. Charlie thought it was probably a good idea since there were a lot of financial implications to that evolution. I joined the Disney Channel in the western region under Jenny Overbaugh, who is now Jenny ______[7:16]. She was the VP of the West at the time reporting up to Charlie Nooney. I started as a rep and a year later, I was “rep of the year.” That was my goal actually because I gave away these mouse statues and I really wanted it. I’m very competitive.
So I was there for a few years and there was something called—there was the business of the C-Band business. I don’t know if you remember when that was going really strong at the time and Diana Ritchie ran that. Disney Channel had their own back office business and she hired me to come work for her as her manager. That was my first promotion from rep. Then she went on to Americast with Mark Handler and then Charlie was running that and then Anne Sweeney came over and I worked with those folks and launched DIRECTV. At the time that was Primestar and Echostar. Echostar is how I met Michael Schwimmer, which coming full circle, we’ll get there: how I ended up being at Fuse Media.
So I think I was the very first or second deal Michael ever did in this industry, was the Disney Channel/Tim Disney deal. That’s how far back we went. So I did that for years and I loved it. Then I came to New York with Disney and I worked here a year with them through national accounts. I did all of that and then this opportunity came up with Bravo. Cathy Doerr was running it at the time. It was split between Cathy and the woman who ran AMC was—it will come to us
Arenstein: I was trying to think of her name.
Lopez: You know what she looks like. Long blond hair.
Arenstein: Then moved on to Canada.
Lopez: That’s Cathy Doerr. So Cathy Doerr ran Bravo and IFC; it was a fledgling little service at the time. Bravo started as a premium service. IFC was only in like 15 million homes and Bravo was in like 20 million and I got a call to Katie McEnroe. Very good. Katie was at AMC. So they had it split, both reporting to Josh and I went off to the Cathy Doerr side. I was the RVP of the eastern region. I’d done West Coast with Disney and now I was on the East Coast with Bravo and I worked for Cathy Doerr and Greg Hill and Ed Palath and of course, Ed—Carol, who’s now the COO over there. People have done really well and the channels have done phenomenal.
I was there for nine years. I was at Disney nine years and then AMC Networks, which at the time was called Rainbow, for nine years and eventually had IFC and Bravo and AMC and WEtv and then MagRack and Fuse actually under it at one time. I was there for nine years and it was pretty phenomenal because when I started out at Disney, when I sent my resumé in to that little tiny ad, who knew that was a destiny changer? So I remember walking through the lobby, the small town Latino kid who was in Hollywood. It seemed so far away for me at that time in my life. Then I was in the lobby walking to the next set of elevator banks and I remember walking past Kevin Costner. He was there for some interview or something on the Disney lot. It was in the heyday of “Dances With Wolves.” I thought, how did this happen? It’s either, as my Yiddish friends would say, it’s “bashert,” or it’s just your calling. And it was just a strong calling. So from there to New York City—I remember when we were in New York when I was twelve years old in the Bicentennial Year, my parents took us here. I remember being in Times Square with my mom and just saying, “I’m going to live here someday, Mom.” It’s funny, how instincts can—I’m sure everyone has had that moment where they just said, “This is who I’m going to be and what I’m going to do.” And you kind of do it. And it all plays out.
Arenstein: I think you told me one time that the Kevin Costner story happened on your first or second day…
Lopez: It was my interview. So it came to a place where then I worked for Bravo and IFC and we would take clients to the Cannes Film Festival and again, it was like these moments in your life where you’re like, wow, I’m here, walking the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival in a gown with all these celebrities I met at Hotel du Cap at Eden Roc having lunch with clients, which I still have some terrific relationships with and we brought clients over at a time in the industry which was just a little bit different than it is today. How fantastic! We would have Quentin Tarantino at our dinners and we would have the great Roger Ebert, who was there also at our dinners. Just looking around and wondering how you got here. Like anyone, you have to just say, “Enjoy it, and dive in. You deserve it.” If you come from my background where your parents pushed you to be anything and everything you can be, even though you come from a small town and maybe some modest means. We were middle class, we did nicely. Our parents did a lot to show us the world so that we would have less fear. So that walking into a Disney Channel building or walking the red carpet; my parents took us to have sushi for the first time when we were twelve. It was a new thing. Or going to the theater. Those events led me to the strength and the courage I had to be among people who maybe I thought deserved it more. I credit my parents for that…
What the hell just happened? Wow. I’m glad I didn’t cry at the Wonder Woman because I was talking about my parents at Wonder Woman.
Arenstein: I have this effect on women, by the way.
Lopez: Now I’m involved in the T. Howard Foundation. So we’ll get to that because from there, the one thing my parents said, they changed people’s lives. Because what they did was reinforce education to kids whose parents worked in the fields and didn’t have the support or the background to take that chance. So they were there to help them through that. Of course, doing it for me and not realizing it was subconscious the whole time. But it’s scary. It’s scary to think you deserve it. I think that’s the big thing that minority kids don’t see that they have. They deserve it.
Arenstein: So, Judi, you were talking about your parents and the great influence they had on you and obviously on a lot of other students they worked with. So they changed a lot of lives. I can’t imagine that they’re not extremely proud of you because what you’re doing now, not your full time job but the other jobs that you’re doing, like working with the FCC, the work that you’ve done for CTAM—not CTAM, but NAMIC. But CTAM as well, right, both.
Lopez: It’s really interesting, I think, that there are so many hats I can wear other than my day job. The one thing when I was younger, my dad said, “When you get to a point, you look back. You don’t keep looking forward because you’ve got to pull those up behind you. It’s your responsibility.” My dad is an incredible person, but he also made me feel guilty about everything. He said, “You have to pull up, you’re breaking through where most minorities cannot. Or don’t have the opportunity or they don’t have the background.” Because my dad when he did his doctorate, it was on testing and how minority students don’t test as well and all the circumstances that go behind it. So he knows what it takes for someone like me to get to where I’m at. So he said, “You’ve got to pull those up behind you because you don’t know their circumstances.” So that led to the T. Howard Foundation, that led to working with Nouveau and Michael Schwimmer. After my nine years at Rainbow, just coming back to that. And Michael is pretty incredible, Michael Schwimmer. I don’t think he gets as much notoriety or credit for what he’s done, not just with bringing in other cultures through media here under DISH Network and really creating the Hispanic tier that everybody drives today. But also he was the original investor and believer in SiTV at the time, which DISH Network, became NuvoTV, which is now Fuse and FM.
He reached out to me and said, “Would you be interested? This is exactly who you are. It’s a Hispanic network in English targeted toward the second and third generation Latino.” It spoke to me. I mean, it’s who I am because identifying myself on television throughout the years has been difficult, because it’s very stereotypical. We all know that. I’m not telling anyone anything new at this point. But for me to find a character on television that I identified with at the time, as an adult, there was like really one—it was Eva Longoria on “Desperate Housewives” who was Mexican, living on the right side of the tracks, which was kind of our story, my family story growing up. So it was a challenge and it was for the first few years, just getting people to understand that just because we speak English doesn’t mean we culturally identify with those on television. So I think we got through to people finally, years later. We’re 70 million homes now and it’s a success story. So it’s something I’m proud of because what my dad always said is, “I’m able to affect individuals, you’re able to affect the masses. Because media is a bigger voice, so take that voice appropriately.” Maybe that’s just what we were supposed to do.
Arenstein: It sounds like it because you’re doing all these wonderful things.
Talk about your work at the FCC on this advisory committee on diversity and the digital realm.
Lopez: Actually Commissioner Mignon [Clyburn] is actually here today in New York City talking about independent networks and programming for minorities. She’s really the person who’s shepherded that, her and Commissioner [Jessica] Rosenworcel have both been amazingly supportive and trying hard to make sure that those voices aren’t silenced in the media conglomeration that’s out there. Because being independent is tough enough. Being independent and a network that targets minorities is even tougher. So they have been amazingly supportive over the years to help us. Because it’s really all we have. So I guess through dealing with them and what I do it’s been something that Commissioner Clyburn has asked me to do a few years ago and it was on the quieter side for a while but it’s starting to accelerate again because consolidation is becoming more and more prevalent.
Arenstein: What specifically do you have to do?
Lopez: There’s a lot of media there. It’s not just television, there’s a lot of minority interest there. So it’s really getting different points of view, understanding what others are going through in the landscape of this digital age. Everything from Title II to the mergers and how that affects independence and having an opinion about it. From my point of view and my company’s point of view. Not my company’s point of view—more my experience, but what I’ve learned through, what I’ve dealt with, with SiTV, Nuvo and Fuse.
Arenstein: Let’s talk a little bit about that. Here you are today in a position of responsibility; we kind of glossed over your ascent, but I’m sure that ascent was interspersed with some difficulties. And being the first, being a woman, and being a Latina woman, can you talk a little bit about some of the hurdles that you had to…?
Lopez: It was interesting. I think there’s two sides of that. One, I think the whole assimilation in corporate America was something that my parents understood to equal success. And so I don’t have an accent, I don’t speak Spanish, I’m not stereotypical. My sister is blonde and blue-eyed so she’s even less stereotypical and she speaks Spanish. So it’s the “fit in;” you know, I fit in. I don’t think at Disney anyone really considered my name or my ethnic background at the time. This was March 19, 1990, when I joined the industry with Disney. And a lot of times with Disney people would say derogatory things—not just Disney, just people. Then I’m like, “Wait, wait, wait—I’m Mexican.” “Yeah, but you don’t look it and you don’t act it.” So I got that early in my career: “Are you Mexican? I thought that was your married name.” People just became smarter and more educated and more sensitive to diversity and what it meant. I just lived it. I was just me. And my family and my parents were always, don’t hide who you are and be proud of who you are. Because I went to college with a lot of kids who were Mexican and a lot of them wouldn’t admit they were Mexican or they would say that they were something else—Spanish. I never had that and I always had the courage and I think it was just bravery and I always knew I had the support of my family no matter what. I knew who I was. It wasn’t just my parents who were proud and active. My grandparents were, too. They were also great role models in the community for me. My grandfather worked in the copper mines and he was one of the union leaders. So leadership was always important to him and I think he just carried that down to my parents and to me.
So growing up being one of the few Latin people, being a Latino, being one of the few women, probably just being as strong-willed as I am, you just kind of just deserve to be there and you have to just believe in yourself. You have to have a level of confidence and that comes from having also some people who believed in you, too. So Diana Ritchie believed in me, Charlie Nooney believed in me, Cathy Doerr believed in me, Ed Palath, Greg Hill, Ed Carroll, they all believed in me. What I thought about myself they reinforced with support.
Arenstein: It sounds like we are saying, well, things are far removed from when you started in the business. Are they really? What is the situation now? I mean, a commentator I heard recently said that certainly overt racism is almost a thing of the past—almost a thing of the past. However, covert racism is as strong as ever.
Lopez: And I think that’s when I was—you said it much better than I said it. At the beginning, where people were much more overt, when I said they’re like Mexicans or Mexican, that was more overt. I think that’s pretty much gone away. I think people really mean to be sensitive and I think they mean to do well. But I think if you look at executive levels, I mean there’s not a lot at my level and above of women or Latina women, especially not associated with a Spanish language network. I’ve never been an executive; I didn’t start my tenure in the industry at a Spanish language network. I’m still at an English language network, but it’s culturally Latino. So you see that. And a lot of times you see non-Latinos in executive positions at Latino networks or Hispanic networks. So there’s some work to be done. That’s why I love the T. Howard Foundation. Because T. Howard is actually taking an active participation in bringing people in. There are other diverse organizations that do things a little bit differently. But we get to actually look at them, see them join these different companies, get hired, make inroads, change things. The hardest thing—and this also goes to anything digital these days. Hiring is one thing; retaining is another. That’s where the difficulty is coming now is to retain people of color because they just end up going nowhere. They stall out in middle to low management and so there’s a different level now that we have to get to in mentoring executives. I think that’s the next phase of diversity.
Arenstein: Are you able to do anything about that yourself?
Lopez: Yes, I’m lucky to be in a company surrounded by diversity. So we have executives coming in. And they’ll say to me—and I have to remember this—they’ll say, “You know, we’re really in __________[26:48]. There’s other Latinas in the company. And it’s like, you’re the only Latino voice in the boardroom. Or you’re a Latina woman.” And the things that they say, I do naturally. They’re noticing concretely. So for me it’s not just being a woman in the boardroom or in the meeting room, being a Latina in the meeting room, I’m also gay, I’m also a lesbian who has a family. Just like everybody else, I just lead a normal life. So I’m carrying a lot of things along with me and I think the best advice I would give is just to be yourself in that situation. And show the best you can, and be your best self.
Arenstein: But just in that answer to that question, it seems to me there’s a lot of weight you’re carrying on your shoulders, a lot of responsibility. You know, I was going to say no pressure…the only Latina, the only…you know that’s a lot of handle. How do you do it?
Lopez: You know, I just think my DNA—not just my real DNA—my fabric, comes from an incredible foundation. You cannot substitute the foundation. Then once your foundation is handed off to you, you have different people to help build the different floors in your tower, so to speak, and I’ve been really fortunate to grow along with that.
This, I have to tell you, is an amazing industry. I came into it not at the very, very beginning, but pretty close to the bottom third of the beginning. And I got to do things and be places and be part of things before they became so big. I was a director at Disney Channel negotiating the carriage deals with DirecTV and Michael Schwimmer. Now it’s like the EVP’s and the presidents of distribution along with the CEO’s are involved in those deals. So I got to learn a lot. I got to learn negotiating contracts, I got to learn so much that today the layers are so thick. Someone below me doesn’t even get that experience, to touch that. So timing was great on my side, too.
Arenstein: What are some of the high points for your career, what are some of the things you can look back on now and say, “Gee, that was a good time. That was a really big moment for me.”
Lopez: I have three. Taking the Disney Channel from a pay service to a basic service and launching DBS with Diana Ritchie. Being there when it was subscriber number one on the Disney Channel for DirecTV and DISH Network, and seeing that go from showing “The Return of Natty Gann” to the Disney Channel it is today. Then starting over again with Bravo and IFC and watching those networks and AMC and we go from building blocks to “The Walking Dead.” And then Bravo off to NBC. Then coming back to take everything I’ve learned. I remember the first time I met Jennifer Lopez when she came on board to work with us at Nuvo, we were sitting across the table and everybody was around her and she said, “Tell me a little bit about yourself.” And I just said, “I’ve been in this industry on the distribution side all of my career and I believe that everything I’ve built and done is why I’m here today.” So she just looked at me and she’s like, I get that. That’s how I feel. Everything I learned from—when you work for Disney, you work for the best. When you work for AMC and Bravo, you work for a whole other kind of best. And to bring that to Nuvo, which is now Fuse Media, which is now in 70 million homes with two networks and building it from nothing to where it is today. So I got three bites of the apple. And all three of them are incredibly successful. And I’m really proud of that.
Arenstein: What is it like working with Jennifer Lopez?
Lopez: What I’ve learned from Jennifer is she is very competitive. She likes to win and she’s a very good businesswoman, and she is a perfectionist. So she wants winners on her team and she wants people not just who want to win, who are passionate about what they’re doing and believe in what they’re doing. Because she does or she doesn’t get involved. So she’s really—as my father would say—chingón.
Arenstein: Can you roughly translate that?
Lopez: She’s “kick ass.”
Arenstein: OK. But a little bit deeper. What is her relationship with Fuse Media?
Lopez: She is one of the—she’s a chief creative officer and she’s one of the owners of the network and we had a proud relationship with her, especially at the time when we were in the mid-growth of what we were doing. She was so impactful for our business on the awareness side. She met with distributors and I gave her a 101 on the business and she really got on quickly and we’re in 70 million homes and she was a part of that.
Arenstein: I believe, and I could be wrong about this, but I believe she identifies with first SiTV and then Nuvo and now Fuse Networks. Like you, I don’t believe she speaks Spanish, or she speaks some…
Lopez: She’s much better than I am. But she was born here. She’s of Puerto Rican descent. She grew up in the Bronx. She has a foot in two cultures and she really got it. I mean, she really understood our mission. So that’s helpful when you’re side by side with someone like that.
Arenstein: Let me ask you this. In terms of the concept of having a culturally, you know, Latino network that is in English, is that an acceptable proposition at this point in the sense that people don’t ask you to explain it? I mean, if you tell them that, do they go, “Oh yeah, that makes sense.” As opposed to, “Why would you ever want to do that?’ I mean, where is it at this point?
Lopez: I think culturally relevant content for anyone should be relevant. Because whether you’re Asian American or African American or Latino American, or a woman or gay, if you’re not seeing yourself reflected on television, there is no connection. We know that and that’s a fact. So representation in a positive way, it’s meaningful to connection. And it’s meaningful to storytelling, accurate storytelling. That’s what changes. Media changes perception. And that’s the one story we would tell in DC is there’s an immigration problem or there’s the perceptions that Mexicans are just fieldworkers. Because that’s all that they see. So when you portray Latinos who are doctors and lawyers or teachers or even if they are fieldworkers, they’re people you can connect with. And sympathize with and change the perception of the stereotype. That’s meaningful for any culture or background that’s a minority.
Arenstein: If I were to turn on Fuse Networks now, what types of shows would I see? What are some of the plots? What are some of the more popular shows and how do they portray Latinos? How is it different from say another network?
Lopez: I’ll give you this example and then I’ll go back to Fuse Media. When you watch George Lopez as a comedian, everyone laughs at George Lopez because he’s funny. Funny is funny, right? But there’s something that he adds to his comedy that connects with someone like me. And so when he says, “My tio or my abuela.” Or in his stories that he tells there’s a different level of connection although you connect with him, too.
Lopez: Funny is funny. So George Lopez has that and that’s what Gabriel Iglesias has on his new show with us. He’s a comedian, he’s a mainstream comedian, he’s not a Latino comedian. He’s just a comedian. But he has that twist or that edge or that humor with his friends that translates over to you and I or just to me, depending we just read things differently. So when he says, “My abuela or my tio,” you understand what that is, you know what it is, just like you know what taco and burrito are. But it conjures up memories of my own. And that’s what a connection is. So Gabriel Iglesias has a comedy show. Comedy is very important to Latinos. Music is very important to Latinos. So those genres of programming are what we have. So music, we have a show called “Big Freedia,” which is African American. But African Americans and Latinos overindex with each other because we’re Latino multicultural. And so Latinos are also not just in a cul-de-sac; we also have a foot in the Black culture, too. So we’re widening the net even more as a television network.
Arenstein: Let’s switch gears a little bit and go to the digital landscape, the television landscape, cable. A lot of people, I think wrongly, but a lot of people say, “Well, cable is not a viable business. Television is not a viable business. I can get everything for free on the Internet.” What do you say to them?
Lopez: Didn’t that happen to the movie business at one time, too? With videotapes and DVDs? Television is an experience; it’s not just about shows. And the experience of just sitting back and turning the television on and having your family around you, whether it’s an event that you’re watching like the Oscars or the Super Bowl, it’s not to be just dismissed as it’s for free. Yes, we’re a society that watches things on our own and mobile, but we’re also people who like to be around other people and we like to connect. So I don’t see that going away. I think digital will play an important role. I use digital but I also turn on the big screen still. And I still surf and I still want to know what’s out there and I don’t want to miss anything.
Arenstein: And does digital have a role to play in promoting diversity and promoting the types of lessons and experiences that have brought you to where you are today?
Lopez: Digital in my children’s generation now, that’s highly important, especially minorities, that’s how they watch a lot of their media now because one, it’s very expensive to purchase the whole package or two. Everybody wants to experience media differently and that’s what they know best. So it’s important to be a part of every platform. I think a lot of times the first platforms that reach out for content, they always go to big players. So they always want to be sure they have the ESPN’s and the Disney’s and the AMC’s to speak. And so a lot of times a network like Fuse Media which would benefit the most are usually like, “Oh, no, it’s OK, we just need the big guys.” But actually it would be great if it happened in reverse. Because a network that’s emerging, like Fuse Media, which its greatest day will be coming, having that edge or that ability to finally break out at its timing in the universe of all the channels that we have now, would be so great for it. Because just the awareness and the ability to connect would be different.
Arenstein: How do you make that happen, Judi?
Lopez: We’re working really hard…that’s an important entity for us. Now that we’re in 70 million homes, there’s more awareness, the ratings are up, it’s a formula and all the ingredients are there. So we are working on making the network available on every platform that we can without the handcuffs that were given in certain areas. And we were given probably more handcuffs than most because we’re independent and we’re small and we’re a minority and a lot of the distributors can do that. So I’ve always had my work cut out for me. I’m not afraid of work and I’m not afraid of—no, that’s just my whole life, I’ve worked against it. That’s our next phase.
Arenstein: What are some of the arguments you use when you get a “no?” “Well, we don’t need Fuse Media, we don’t have that sort of viewer; our Spanish language channels are just fine for our Latinos in my area who watch our systems.” How do you get past that?
Lopez: You didn’t tell me to bring a PowerPoint presentation. I could have because I do this all the time. I can show you all the research. Without getting too researchy and the us-and-them, and Spanish, Spanish, Spanish, English, English, English; I mean all of the growth in this sense has really told our story already. So I think as this country changes, 16% of the population and it’s going to get more and more, it’s kind of common sense. If you want to grow, you have to have a Hispanic element and not just Spanish and English. I mean, look what Univision is doing. They were all Spanish and now they’ve branched out. They have two networks that are English language with Fusion and El Rey. So being a pioneer is always hardest because you always kind of soften the ground for everybody else. And I think the legitimacy of why we’re here and being here is we don’t have to argue anymore. People get it. Now we just have to manage the economics.
Arenstein: What keeps you up at night? I mean, when you see an El Rey, you probably say on one hand—I don’t want to put words in your mouth—OK, that kind of verifies what we’re doing. On the other hand, that kind of verifies what we’re doing. That’s our competition now.
Lopez: Sometimes you know what, I found it with WE and I found it with Disney. Every network that’s by itself has a harder time than a network that has multiple players. Because it’s like anything. You can’t play a tennis match by yourself. So it ups your game, it ups your credibility and it ups the ante. Because, I don’t know if it’s coincidental, but when El Rey was out, we were in 30 million homes. Before El Rey was out we were in 30 million homes. Now El Rey and Fusion are out and we’re in 70 million homes. So there are a lot of circumstances and hard work behind that, but it’s a legitimizer and it’s OK. It’s good to have competition in your space.
Arenstein: All boats rise.
Lopez: All boats rise and all those who didn’t get it eventually go, hmmm. Because when you’re an independent doing it, they’re like, well, if it’s that good an idea, why hasn’t Disney done it and why hasn’t Univision done it? They’re the big guys. So when the big guys do it, you’re like, OK. Now do you get it?
Arenstein: Judy, clearly your parents’ legacy is sitting right next to me. It’s a wonderful legacy. What would you like your legacy in this industry to look like? What would you like people to say about you? Way down the road, obviously…. thinking about legacies,..
Lopez: Way, way down. You know, she built it, they did come. And I didn’t do it consciously. It was always about doing best work, hard work, loving what I did at a very young age. I was 25 when I started with Disney. Then with each brand that I was lucky enough to work with, they became blockbuster brands. And so they went on to do great things and hand it off to great people to run them. I’m working with Fuse Media right now and I’m enjoying it and I expect it to be another great brand out there. I can look back and say I was part of building some really cool networks in the industry that are now looked at as the networks out there among many.
So that’s part of my legacy. The other legacy—that’s the working legacy. The other part of it is doing something meaningful for the community. And whether it’s overt or covert or whatever it is, adding some diversity and a voice for independent networks, for minority networks, for women, and doing it with humor and lots of fun. Last year I was nominated for the Wonder Woman Award. I’m not very good with awards. I’m not very good with anything that has to do with recognition. I just want to do a really good job. They submitted my name without telling me because usually every year, I told them not to. So when I won, I was nervous, I was excited, I was scared and I was pissed, all at the same time. When I got used to the fact, you know what—Wonder Woman was 25 years to the day that I joined the industry. It was March 19, 2015. I said, “You know, this is selfish if you don’t do something with this time and this moment.” So my whole family came, I told my story, I got to be present in front of people who, some knew me, some didn’t know me. And I got to be authentic. That was great. That was fun. Not everybody gets to be a Wonder Woman, and I’m glad I got to.
Arenstein: Judi, I totally get it. And thanks to you—you’ve explained it to those of us who didn’t get it and then we really get it. So thank you so much. This was a pleasure.
Lopez: It really was. Thank you for including me in this, and letting me cry on camera. I really appreciate it, Barbara Walters. It’s my Barbara Walters moment. I had it!
END OF INTERVIEW