At midtown Manhattan’s posh Cipriani restaurant, spotlights skipped across a crowd of one thousand invited guests before landing on Henry Cisneros, the former San Antonio mayor and U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. “Welcome to the Latin explosion!” Cisneros exclaimed, as giant screens flashed pictures of Hispanic stars of film, sports, music, literature, and fashion.
His face could have been up there too, as the most famous Hispanic politician in the United States. But since a personal scandal forced his resignation from politics in 1996, he’s carved a new role for himself: television executive. As the president and chief operating officer of Los Angeles-based Univision Communications, Cisneros is the lead pitchman for what is the nation’s largest Spanish-language TV broadcaster and the fastest growing broadcaster of any kind. In mid-May he and other Univision executives took the stage at Cipriani during the week when all the major networks unveil their programming for the new season and make their pitch to advertisers and the media. Last year Univision raked in a record $425 million in ad sales during this period. This year it’s obviously hoping for more, so the network rolled out its 2000-2001 lineup with flash and fanfare, including a guest appearance by singer Julio Iglesias. Wine flowed freely at the lavish lunch that followed.
Cisneros, though, was too busy to sit down and eat. Reporters on deadline for Variety, the Los Angeles Times, and the Miami Herald had lots of questions. After they dashed off to file their stories, he and I sat down for a one-on-one interview—a rarity, since he and other Univision employees usually are barred from talking one-on-one to the news media by Univision chairman A. Jerrold Perenchio. One of the richest men in America and a behind-the-scenes political power broker in Southern California, Perenchio isn’t Hispanic, doesn’t