Historically, Latinos in the U.S. have had limited choices on TV. Spanish- language networks like Univision and Telemundo do a decent job at news, but the cheesy telenovela reigns supreme. Newer outlets like Telemundo’s Mun2 and MTV’s Tr3s, which dabble in bilingual content, haven’t emerged as major players.
Fusion, a new English-language network aimed at young Latinos and their multicultural peers, wants to change all that. With a reach of more than 20 million households nationwide, Fusion – created by ABC News and Univision – is out to capture a demographic whose spending power Nielsen has predicted will grow to $1.5 trillion in 2015.
The network’s CEO, Isaac Lee, believes targeting younger viewers is the key to getting around the regional and linguistic differences that have splintered the Latino market in the past. “We’re trying to reach an audience that likes Colbert, Breaking Bad and Girls,” Lee says. He’s already made several prize hires, like David Javerbaum, formerly of The Daily Show, who’s developing several primetime comedies, and Univision News anchor Jorge Ramos.
Lee’s own background exemplifies the new realities Fusion is designed to reflect. Raised by Jewish parents who settled in Bogotá, the 42-year-old CEO grew up immersed in Colombian culture. “I understand what it means to start from scratch in a new country,” he says. Lee, who is gay, moved to Miami in 2000 after cutting his teeth as an investigative journalist in Bogotá. In 2010, he became head of Univision News, where he was controversially accused of offering to soften or kill a damning story about Sen. Marco Rubio’s brother-in-law in exchange for an interview. (Lee has denied this; the story ran.) “We’re not in the business of being popular,” Lee says. “We’re in the business of telling stories.”
While Lee is aware of the enormous pressure Fusion is under to succeed, he’s not sweating it. “When you’re the editor in chief of a news magazine in Colombia, you have a bulletproof car and you get death threats,” Lee says with a laugh. “Now the worst thing that can happen to me is someone gets pissed off and doesn’t invite me to a cocktail party.”
This story is from the November 21st, 2013 issue of Rolling Stone.