With Fusion’s debut, a bid for laughs and then a serious turn

Fusion mixed wry humor and edgy journalism for its Monday night debut, with Univision anchor Jorge Ramos launching into segments on prisoner mistreatment and sex abuse shortly after a musical number poking fun at the demographic needle the English-language network hopes to thread in pursuit of young viewers.

At 6:57 p.m., viewers of the joint venture by ABC and Univision saw an elaborate musical video of Fusion staffers (or people playing Fusion staffers) dancing their way through ad departments and the network’s Doral studios, singing about receiving “our final memos about targeting our demos” for a channel that’s the “corporate god child of ABC/Disney and Univision.”

But if the musical number captured Fusion’s strategy of using humor to attract young viewers, the network’s first program took an entirely different tack. Ramos, 55, welcomed viewers to Fusion and said the network’s approach to news would be pointed and reflect his viewpoint as a Mexican-born U.S. journalist.

“It’s no secret I’ve been talking about the need for immigration reform for years. After all, I’m an immigrant, so we’ll be covering that for sure’’ he told viewers. He said his show’s title was designed to convey an interest beyond the U.S. borders. “Here America is our home, our country. América, with an accent, really covers the entire hemisphere. Our show will be news with an accent. That will include my own.”

The first 30 minutes of Fusion, which employs about 200 people in a recently built studio that also houses the news division of Univision, offered the first solid look at how the network’s strategy will come to life.

Executives said they would use humor to break down some of the pretense seen in traditional television news, and the musical parody seemed from that playbook. But the Ramos show ran through a more conventional approach to news of particular interest to an Hispanic audience: sex abuse in the Catholic Church; a correspondent questioning President Barack Obama on immigration reform; a jailhouse tour with Arizona sheriff, Joe Arpaio, known for running a harsh prison and who Ramos called “probably the most hated man in the Hispanic community.”

After Ramos, former Huffington Post online host Alicia Menendez launched a show billed as tackling “issues we deal with everyday: the highs and lows with sex, the struggles with money and power.”

“This show will provoke,’’ Menendez, 30, explained in the first few minutes of Alicia Menendez Tonight. “It will at times make you, and us, uncomfortable.” Her first topic: a sober and nuanced discussion of virginity.

Fusion sees Comedy Central’s The Daily Show as proof millennials respond to humor when consuming news, and the later hours were set to move more squarely into that category. Although executives scrambled the schedule for the first night, by Tuesday the nine o’clock hour is scheduled to begin a comedy block produced out of Los Angeles: first a sports comedy show, and then a program titled No, You Shut Up, described as a talk show hosted by a person and featuring four puppets.

For its first night, Fusion was set to be available in what the network will only say is “about” 20 million homes. Time Warner and Comcast have not agreed to carry the network, so it was not watchable throughout much of South Florida and the rest of the country. Univision runs the content side of the network, and ABC is charged with selling the channel to cable carriers and to advertisers.

While the original plan was to create an English-language network aimed at younger Hispanics, ABC and Univision found backlash against that approach over concerns it was too focused on ethnicity. Young Hispanics remain the top demographic target, executives said, but the network itself is positioned to approach young viewers in general.

Fusion’s opening musical number gave a nod to the switch.

When the time to segment Fusion’s demographics came/Young Hispanics were our core, the dancers sang while twirling amid Fusion office cubicles. Then we ran it up the flagpole and decided/We should aim at millennials 18 to 34.