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Bel Hernandez-Castillo: The Gift That Keeps On Giving

The Hollywood insider's latest project, ¡HOLA LA!, a talk show with a Latina point of view, debuts Sept. 30

By Belinda Quesada, Contributing Writer
Published on LatinoLA: September 29, 2012


Bel Hernandez-Castillo: The Gift That Keeps On Giving


If you know anything about the Hollywood entertainment industry, then you already know of Bel Hernandez-Castillo. Her reputation proceeds her and for good reason. She's the real deal with industry ties and successful Hollywood projects to prove it.

This is an unabashed, proud Latina whose passion drives her every move.

In her latest project, ¡HOLA! LA! , premiering Sunday, Sept. 30, at 5 (PST), on KCAL 9, a CBS television affiliate, Bel brings her online talk show to mainstream television. ¡Por fin!

¡HOLA! LA sprung from the popular English language webisode series, "Let's Talk", that featured Bel and three delightfully diverse Latinas who discussed everything from politics to sex. No topic was off limits. Patterned after Barbara Walters, "The View", only better. Bel thought it inconceivable that there wasn't a voice for Latina women on television.

So Bel did what Bel does best. She gathered her talented like-minded friends and they developed and co-produced their own talk show. It just took a few determined Latinas with the vision and the chutzpah to make it happen.

The result is ¡HOLA! LA, a unique talk show in English with a Latina point of view (POV). By Latinas and for Latino/a's. Clever yes, and way past due.

According to Scarborough Media Research, in the Los Angeles area some 24 percent of adult Latino's watch both English and Spanish language TV and roughly 60 percent speak English outside the home. Because ratings count in Hollywood, Bel is pulling in all her favors to ask the greater Los Angeles community to watch the show. The fact that HOLA! LA will premier on a CBS station is a huge coup for the ladies and if the show does well, a dedicated time slot will follow.

Kudos are also extended to Steve Mauldin, CBS General Manager at Los Angeles KCAL 9, who appears to be ahead of the curve in approving this 30-minute, all Latino focused production.

HOLA! LA will premier as a test show. Nationwide there are 52 million Latinos, 22 million are female. In Los Angeles, 40.5 percent are over 18 years of age. The numbers speak for themselves and any sane person would wonder why didn't they think of this idea before. But that's the beauty of being Bel Hernandez-Castillo; she never gives up and never stops creating.

Make no mistake, Ms. Hernandez-Castillo has earned her way to the top. It is unfair to categorize this wonder woman because she literally has done it all. She has danced, acted, managed events, hosted awards shows, created and produced a visionary entertainment trade magazine, coauthored a book, consulted on radio and TV, and the toured the college lecture circuit. It is fair to say that she is considered a source matter expert on Latinos in the entertainment industry. And this is just a partial list of her achievements.

Ms Hernandez-Castillo has her pulse on the cultura, Hollywood Latino talent, and has the Rolodex to prove it.

In addition to the TV side, Ms. Hernandez-Castillo is the CEO of Latin Heat Media, LLC, a multi-media company that produces and consults on a variety of programs and projects for the US Latin market. She remains the founder and publisher of Latin Heat magazine entertainment industry trade publication. Considered the 'go to' source in the industry. Latin Heat magazine and website are celebrating twenty years in the Hollywood entertainment business.

The following Q & A delves deeper into Bel Hernandez-Castillo's extraordinary drive.

Belinda Quesada (BQ): What was the final straw that made you want to create this type of TV show?

Bel Hernandez-Castillo (BHC): It was simply the constant neglect of English language TV not having a Latina POV and voice. I reviewed the statistics and as a Latina, I knew mainstream television was not addressing our needs. Initially, we had a webisode series talk show with the same format and called it "Let's Talk".

Since 2008, we've been planning Let's Talk as an Independent production. For the premier, we changed the name and of course if we go nationwide, we will change it again. Through it all, we are passionate about our culture and our people.

BQ: What do you want women to understand or take away from the show?

BHC: We want viewers to see that the audience is the same and much like The View, we have a predominantly female audience. Just like The View, there are four women with distinct POV. Not topics are off limits. Our voice will simply add to the image that American's have of Latino's. We hope to be as popular within to all communities.

BQ: How did you pitch the show?

BHC: Latin Heat media is in co-production with CBS to produce HOLA! LA. We have known that there was an audience; however, it was the 2010 Census that provided the defining numbers to support the info we knew to be true. We have always had the talent. Now, the networks and the advertisers are realizing that there is a much bigger audience out there that speaks the same language and has the same buying power. It takes a visionary to take the risk and we are grateful to GM Steve Mauldin, from CBS who understood our vision and is giving us this great opportunity.

BQ: What's is the format and why?

BHC: Hola! LA is a 30-minute, English language, magazine formatted, taped for broadcast talk show. When we moved from the Internet. CBS wanted us to embrace the city we live in. Los Angeles is our community it is an integral part of the show.

Each Latina will share their live experiences. Our core audience is 30 plus, our youngest host is in her 20s, we are the same audience as The View.

Originally, I reached out to few different talented women; one actress from the Dominican Republic, and another form Puerto Rico, to show the spectrum of Latina's but some weren't available.

BQ: What is Hollywood like for Latino's?

BHC: Hollywood for Latino's is opening up. As the publisher of entertainment trade publication, I have literally seen Hollywood change over time. At first begrudgingly, now it's more open. There are more female stars at TV and film and it's very rewarding to see.

Now there's a choice of a lot of wonderful talent to be recognized. We just had the Alma Awards and I believe we are hitting our stride. You can see that we have the talent that deserves to be awarded.

BQ: How do you see your role in Hollywood?

BHC: My role has been one of cheerleader for our Latino talent. This is done through our publication (Latin Heat) on online services, Latin Heat Media, Inc. LLC. And through our publication, we showcase our diverse and talented community. We are proud of our gente. We have featured hundreds of extraordinary talent in Latin Heat magazine over the last two decades.

From Jennifer Lopez, before she became famous, to Eva Longoria, and many, many, others who dared to dream and carve out their success in Hollywood. It hasn't been easy up until five years ago; it was back and fourth and always gaining small feats. I never really thought it would happen in the beginning. But, we all just kept plugging away, along with co-editor Elia Esparza, it's been a labor of love. We have been working side-by-side for15 years. We knew that if we didn't cover it, it might not have made it in other trade publications.

BQ: Has new media and/or social media helped?

BHC: Yes, tremendously. From print to online we started with a friend, Miguel Torres, from Angel Flight Media, and we decided to do red carpet and one on one interviews. We started interviews on the red carpet using his production company. He was always on board. Internet and social media helped with the production mode. Without it, we probably wouldn't have to the audience. We have many fans from around the worked Texas, Pittsburgh, Miami, etc. Social media is the best equalizer for Latinos. People would complain they couldn't see us. Well now they will and it's very gratifying. I believe that if you have an idea, you can make it happen

Our set was furniture warehouse. We shot four shows, and started the vision. We did the decoration's caterings we did it all. It was 2008, when we first got together to brainstorm the look and feel of the show. It's a great honor and great moment to be Latino.

BQ: How has Latin Heat magazine changed the perception of Latino's in Hollywood?

BHC; It has informed industry that the talent is there. Especially in the beginning, they just didn't know where to look. We are read by industry. They looked for our vision, talent, and what was popular. Case in point, actor Jay Hernandez, manager sent us an email thanking us for covering him in Latin Heat. Because of our cover, Variety contacted him, etc. as well as other magazines. We are about changing the perspective of Hollywood. We get calls for a director, producer or a person with a specific talent. I have spoken on panels, was interviewed for Vogue magazine, and the Hollywood Reporter.

I had a entor who was an ex publisher at Hollywood Reporter. We would meet for lunch twice a year and talk about the industry. In 1999, he asked if I could put together a panel of Latino talent. I did and was able to secure the top Latino talent. It was a successful panel and what I learned was that we don't brag about ourselves. We have to learn to toot our horn better. Actors who believed we did not have a voice protested and that in brief is the reason for the magazine. You never do it alone. Different stages, people come and go in our lives. A lot of people believed in what we were doing and helped made a big difference.

(Writers note: during the interview, Bel heard her promo on TV and screamed and excitedly told me about it. To this day, she remains in awe of TV and the magic to reach and inform millions. She said she was so proud and simply over the moon. Bel knows that her success is not her's alone and it will shine a light on every sector of our world. Latinos are mainstream now. This is a mainstream show with a twist that's never been seen before.)

BQ: Is there a glass ceiling for Latinos? If yes, how do we overcome it?

BHC: The numbers don't lie; there are 52 million Latinos in the US and there are not being served. We are more mainstream. In comparison to our numbers, we are 2% on TV. Good and bad, yes; but, more work needs to be done.

Never forget that this is a business, and everyone wants to know your ratings. We are dependent on the ratings. It's so important to get the word out. High ratings will tell the network how important we are. We need ratings and sponsors. We could go weekly if thee numbers are there. We'd love to say, we; have 13 episodes, but it's a long journey.

BQ: Any off topics you won't cover?

BHC: We cover all topics that can legally be discussed and television. We won't shy away from a topic because of controversy.

BQ: What's specific to our Latino race? How do we differ?

BHC: Well, first of all, were individuals, not the stereotypes seen on television. We are all Americans. Our expert is different from other people because of our Latino culture. We can't be stereo typed, on our show we look at the topic.

BQ: Whose your first celebrity and why?

BHC: Our first guest are actors, Esai Morales, whose is a proud Puerto Riqueño who is always busy with a multitude of projects and is an icon in the Latino community and actor, John Leguizamo, a Colombiano, who has always used his Latino roots and complex body of work to showcase his pride. Both tremendously talented individuals who we love and they always supported us. In addition, we will have Cubana Rodri Rodriguez, Mariachi USA festival promoter for the past 15 years. She's a dynamo. And last but not least, we visited the Cirque de Soleil.

We will embrace all of our humanity and will be organically introducing the culture and who we are in each show. We want to show off our proud cultural heritage and continue to discuss real issues that impact Latinos today. Please check us out online for special segmented clips. Facebook.com/HolaLAontv and [url=http://twitter.com/HolaLATalk]twitter.com/HolaLATalk[/url.

BQ: What makes LA unique?

BHC: This is our home base but, more importantly, Los Angeles represents the world and has diversity and many different cultures that thrive here. It's the people here and community we live in. Hola! LA will have a 'woman on the streets' series where we go out to talk to people, in an effort to bridge our rich cultures. None of us live in a vacuum and we need to interact with everyone in the world. We will focus on issues and topics that affect Latinos as well as the community at large. What we talk about is universal.

BQ: Advice to those who might be stuck in their career path, in a bad relationship/marriage, etc.?

BHC: In my career, there were many times where I wanted to give up. My strongest advice; Do not give up; keep plowing through and you will achieve what you want. It's more about the work than the end result. Sometimes it leads to a different result. It's about the passion, and drive. Everyone's unique.

BQ: Long term goals for the show?

BHC: We want to go national. We want to be across the country. We have fans; we know the audience is there. We know that our show will be appreciated.

BQ: What's next?

BHC: Ideal trajectory: take this community show from monthly to weekly to daily. We want that daily, national audience. Eventually, we would also like to have a studio audience. When we are syndicated, we will have to change the name. I believe that the Latino community wants a show like this. And they will help us get there. I've talked to a lot of people and we all support each other dream. Our success is the community success and visa versa.

BQ: Who's Bel really like?

BHC: Oh my goodness. There's a lot of Bel running around. As I get older, I'm toning it down to a more sedate level. I'm a mom, step-mom, publisher, author, etc. My strongest traits are that I have been driven by my passion. I'm lucky to have people around me that allow me to pursue my passions, etc. My husband, Enrique Castillo, and my daughter, my coworkers, all of them jumped on board and helped make it a bigger passionate goal. I wrote a book with seven other women entitled, eight ways to says I love my life. There was also a stage production from the book and my daughter will play me in the play.

BQ: Who would play you in your movie?

BHC: My vote is for Salma Hayek. She is a very powerful woman. Confident, self reliant, and knows exactly what she wants. I met her and liked her instantly. She is a take-charge kind of women. I don't have that personality but, I am a very hard worker and sometimes I take a long while and I might in some situations take a side role. When I started out in the business, I was not the same women I am today. I was lucky as I had people who shared my vision. Salma always new what she wanted. She knew herself, she was always in charge. That power is very sexy and impressive.

BQ: Describe a typical day?

BHC: Two typical days. One with my husband, one without. Now Enrique is in the Dominican Republic, shooting a film. So today, I get on my computer and begin writing, run errands, return for a bite to eat. If he's here, we exercise walk, catch up, work at the office, he doesn't like to got out events, he loves sports, etc. I work in my Home office.

BQ: What keeps you motivated?

BHC: There's a lot to be done. No time to rest. There is a show to push, a movie to be produced, and assorted projects my husband and me want to do. He just completed a book, "In the Dead of Summer" and is shopping it around.

I used to think that when I get older and I would tend to my garden or redecorate the house, but now I can't find the time. There is so much to do. Enrique and I still want to do it all. We can. No one is telling us we can't. My belief is that you can do whatever you want if it's your passion embrace it.

BQ: What is star quality to you?

BHC: It is a combination of knowing who you are. When you now what you want and are prepared when opportunity knocks. Some people talk a lot about what they want and others never do it. Be real. The trick is to not let your ego get in the way. It's not about the fame; it's about the work.

BQ: How important is it to give back to the community?

BHC: It's super important. It is one of the things that you cannot forget. Eva Longoria is my idol. She's smart, knows what she wants and gives back to her community. She has never been afraid to talk about being Mexican American. She embraces her cultura and is always there to lend a hand to help others. She's one of the best.

BQ: What is your favorite charity and why?

BHC: The homeless because they often get a bad rap. There are a lot of mentally ill people who often get overlooked. They are looked down upon. It's sad to me that we have charity for dogs and other animals that get more attention than the Homeless discarded people. They are ignored, tripped over, and passed by on the freeway. We need to pay attention to these people. Some are our Veterans who gave their lives for us. It's just a crime.

BQ: Have you ever been to the White House?

BHC: No, but my husband has! He went with the Mi Familia cast. The closest I got to the WH was when the Congressional Hispanic Caucus met in Washington and then Senator Barack Obama was in attendance. So, I actually got close to the President and Congressional members.

BQ: Any final thoughts?

BHC: Thank you to all of the people who have been supportive and responsive to the show. Your love has been tremendous and we are extremely grateful. If you are reading this and live in the greater LA area, please tune in to Ch. 9 this Sunday, Sept. 30th at 5:00pm. Thank you! ¡Muchisimas gracias!

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