Hispanic talk show speaks out

Television: The Spanish-language show `Chat' does not mince words about sensitive topics.

January 03, 2002|By Steve Rothaus | Steve Rothaus,KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS

Nacen o se hacen? Are gay people "born or made"?

That's a typical night's Chat on the recently launched Spanish-language Mun2 cable television network, seen throughout the United States and Latin America.

Chat is a live talk show from Telemundo studios in Hialeah, Fla., with five young Latin Americans as hosts. Their mission: to attract 18- to 34-year-old Latino viewers who can call or e-mail the show in real time. Topics include religion, nationality and sex.

During an episode about AIDS, the hosts (three men and two women) showed how to use male and female condoms.

"It's a very interesting program, and I love it," viewer Jose Ivan Tejada, 20, of Colombia told the Miami Herald via e-mail. "It deals with contemporary issues and it tries to give solutions and bring clarity to society."

"They have been told by upper management - me - to act very authentic," said Manuel Abud, president of Telemundo Cable, the cable division of Telemundo Communications Group.

"Being authentic doesn't mean to attack what other people believe," Abud said. "We're respectful of what other people think. If someone calls and says gay people are perverts, we say, `That's your opinion, but frankly we don't agree with it.'"

Each host is responsible for producing one episode of Chat per week. The hosts choose the nightly subjects and invite guests, such as psychologists and counselors.

"It's a very diverse cast. They are not television actors or professionals," Abud said. "We wanted people to bring very different experiences and backgrounds to the table."

About 200 prospects auditioned for the show. Among those chosen: Karim Mendiburu, a mid-20s, conservative Mexican journalist who plays soccer and has acted in soap operas; Paola Varela, 24, a Colombian-born model who is not afraid to talk about her breast implants; Richie Marchosky, 33, a third-generation Panamanian who moved to Miami nine years ago, studied dance at the New World School of the Arts, got married, then came out of the closet.

"Richie is gay and has been told to be open about it," Abud said. "That's the way it is in the streets. It would be a good reflection of what's out there. It's not that we had to have a gay character, but I always thought it would be good for the show."

At first, Marchosky was nervous about being the gay cast member on a prime-time show that would be seen in 6 million homes in 23 countries.

"I was concerned I was going to be used as a freak, a pawn," Marchosky said. "Not because of the gay issue in itself - I had no problems saying I was gay. My concern was about the support I was going to get in-house, and the role the people around me perceived for me to have."

It took a few weeks before Marchosky felt comfortable doing the show. Marchosky, who produced the recent "nacen o se hacen" segment, said he is proud to be a trailblazer on a show that reaches many young Hispanics.

"My goal is to help change the public consciousness about homosexuality," he said.

Marchosky has become a role model for young gay people in a part of the world where homosexuality is rarely talked about.

Every day, Marchosky gets about 100 e-mails from young gay people in Latin America. The cable show's Web site is www.mun2television.com/programs/chat.htm l.

"I also get a lot of mail from television reporters who say they are gay and could never say it on the air," he said.

Marchosky, himself, worries about being typecast.

"I've always put myself up to big challenges and defied the odds. I just followed my heart. We have to take risks as an artist and as a human being," he said. "Maybe a year from now, I'll say `That was a mistake.' But I'm doing it now and it feels good."

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