One of the best-known talk programs on local Spanish-language television has been cancelled and its host is out of a job — the result of a made-for-TV drama unfolding in the South Florida Hispanic media industry.
Hosted by popular journalist María Elvira Salazar, the María Elvira show was launched only three months ago on GenTV (WGEN-Channel 8), now an affiliate of MundoFox Broadcasting, a new Spanish-language network partially owned by a subsidiary of media giant News Corp.
María Elvira was abruptly taken off the air in December and this week Salazar’s contract was terminated.
Luis Calle — vice president for operations, news and sports of Caracol Televisión, one of the dominant media players in Colombia and an owner of Miami-based GenTV — confirmed that Salazar was out.
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“We wish her the best future anyone can wish a person with her professional and human qualities,” he said.
The departure of Salazar is the climax of a controversial and confusing contractual tussle that involves two Miami TV stations and the new network, which was launched nationally in August by Fox International and RCN Televisión de Colombia.
GenTV cancelled all the programming it premiered just three months ago during its re-launch except its local newscast. Meanwhile, América CV Network, owner of América TeVé (WJAN-Channel 41), which had announced an affiliation agreement with MundoFox Broadcasting several months ago with great hoopla, has been sued by MundoFox for allegedly breaching two agreements signed last May.
“Obviously, Channel 8 made a decision to become part of a national network and a greater world and, based on its history of scant success in the local market, decided to take another course,” said Tomás Johansen, a veteran Spanish-language television executive.
“This is a real telenovela that we’re watching in 2013,” Johansen added.
On Friday, Dec. 28, at 8 p.m., just before the María Elvira program began, GenTV’s screen went black for a second. Immediately afterward, without notifying the audience or telling Salazar, the station changed its signal to MundoFox programming. The previous program had even promoted the María Elvira show.
Salazar and her team were on vacation. The day’s program was taped in advance.
“This caught the public in South Florida and those of us who work at the channel by surprise,” wrote Salazar on her Facebook page upon returning from vacation. “I am so sorry that so many of you feel deceived by Miami’s Channel 8 when it changed its programming without previous warning,” she continued the following day.
The programming changes and the primetime signal switch were ordered by MundoFox, which only a few hours earlier had announced its affiliation with GenTV. Until that time, the MundoFox signal had been broadcast in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale market through frequencies belonging to América CV Network, a television company that has catered to the local Cuban audience.
“Simply put, from an operational standpoint, we were ready, and that was the time and date chosen by MundoFox,” Calle explained. “There was no ill intention; it happened by chance.”
MundoFox said in a statement that the addition of GenTV, “represents a major step forward for us in Miami, bringing full coverage, a consistent channel position, and a strong, built-in Spanish-language audience in this very important market.”
The drastic changes in the affiliation alliances set Miami’s television industry and Spanish-language press abuzz. Why did MundoFox suddenly associate with GenTV and drop América TeVé?
The answer may be found in a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Miami.
MundoFox alleges that, as a result of contract breaches by América CV Network, its initial launch “had less exposure’’ and “viewership was lower’’ because its programming was swapped to inferior channel positions on Comcast and wasn’t carried on DirecTV or DISH Network.
That made it more difficult to solicit advertisers and resulted in decreased advertising revenue, according to the lawsuit.
In a statement, América CV Network denied the accusations and said it will defend itself vigorously.
According to Calle, the Caracol executive, the speed of the negotiations did not give GenTV enough time to announce the changes to the audience.
In addition to María Elvira, several new programs produced in Miami for South Florida’s diverse Latin American population were dropped from GenTV’s lineup. Those programs were made by independent producers.
GenTV continues to produce The Tony Benítez Show, but MundoFox stopped airing it and GenTV plans to sell it elsewhere.
Salazar’s production-team members, who were employed directly by GenTV, were notified this week that they’re jobless. High-ranking producers will get severance. The rest of the team will collect salaries until the end of the month.
As part of the shakeup, GenTV general manager Roy Meyeringh also was let go.
Born in Miami to Cuban parents and raised in Puerto Rico, Salazar has spent 26 years covering major news events around the Americas, an experience that has earned her five regional Emmys. In recent years, her program — which features confrontational debate — has migrated through various local channels, including América TeVé, MegaTV-Channel 22, and GenTV.
Station sources told el Nuevo Herald that Salazar is still negotiating the financial terms of her departure.
“I wish MundoFox the same success that I achieved on Channel 8. I belong to the public of Miami,” Salazar said, adding that she will soon announce her plans.