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TELEVISION | Nely Galan's rise in Latino entertainment
has created friends and enemies. One thing is sure:
With her . . .

Everything Is a Production

March 12, 2000|DANA CALVO and Dana Calvo is a Times staff writer.

Outside this company town, Nely Galan isn't terribly famous. But Hollywood operates under its own hierarchy, a place where this particular television executive's name evokes either breathless dedication or, more often, unbridled vitriol.

Things move quickly inside her Venice Beach television production company, and she strides through the aromatherapy-filled hallway smiling. She doesn't look nearly as vicious as her reputation, but I have been warned about the seduction of her charm.

Galan was not asked to host her own TV talk show, run the entertainment division of a large television network and oversee production of three Spanish-language television series by being a bore.

She is hurrying toward me with open arms, her face beaming with mischief and a playful conspiracy. She uses a stage whisper to imitate what she fears her enemies have already told me. Nely Galan's pushy. She's greedy. She hogs all the development deals this town parcels out to Latinos.

But, enough of that, she says and laughs loudly, let's eat! She can't wait to hear what they said.

When they're done spitting nails, they say a lot.

At 36, Galan has made a career demanding that Hollywood get an eyeful of her, and therefore--so her logic goes--take a good look at Latinos.

Whether you love her or hate her, Galan has kicked in the gates of studios that had remained closed to many of her Latino predecessors. The problem, many say, is that she has slammed those gates behind her.

Her story is a seldom-seen aspect of a disenfranchised group trying to break into the power structure. She has become one of the most well-known Latinas at the big English- and Spanish-language television networks over the past eight years, but her controversial reputation among her fellow Latinos provokes difficult questions.

When will Latinos gain enough power in Hollywood to choose their rainmaker rather than uncomfortably accept someone who seems a little too invigorated by the status?

And why, after only 14 months, did she leave her post as entertainment president at the Telemundo television network, a job that made her the highest-ranking Latina studio executive in the country?

By the end of lunch, Galan volunteers what is already lore around this town--that she wants a sitcom based on her.

Enrique Oliver worked with Galan after winning a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1986 and a 1987 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for filmmaking.

"The funny thing is, she had five different projects she was pitching about herself," he said. "She took [Oliver's pilot called "I Love Nely"] so seriously, she wanted to produce it. I told her, 'Nely, it's a joke. I wrote it on a Sunday.' "

David Evans, president and CEO of Hallmark Entertainment Networks who formerly headed TCI International and Fox Television Inc., where he met Galan, said she is being faulted for simply surviving in a tough industry.

"Nely does a very good job of self-promotion," he said. "There would be those that might criticize that; however, I'd also say that as an independent operator in this business in this town and particularly as a woman, if you don't promote yourself, no one else will."

Galan sells herself as a woman with one mission. She aims to put Latinos on television. She draws similarities between Latino and gay viewers--both of whom, she says, are excluded groups who are forced to watch caricatures of themselves on prime-time television.

This past winter the four major television networks and a minority coalition led by the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People signed agreements that aim to offer greater opportunity to minorities both in front of and behind the camera.

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"I think that's what we have not understood as Latinos--that if one person gets something, it doesn't take away from someone else," Galan said. The Hispanic Media Coalition honored her in January for the positive image she gives the Latino community, but seated throughout the ballroom were people who had criticized her in private. More evidence, some say, that Galan is a powerful force in Hollywood whom Latinos publicly feel the need to rally around.

One of the men at her table was Roland Ballester, vice president of business development for Fox Latin American Channels, who worked for Galan from 1996 to 1998. In an interview this winter he said Galan is becoming "the biggest promoter and entrepreneur in the U.S. Hispanic market."

"The criticisms against her usually come from outside the industry, but once you're inside, you realize she's created a climate that people can take advantage of," Ballester said. "Sometimes, the first one in doesn't get tangible results."

She contends that some of her unpopularity stems from a culture clash: her distinctly flamboyant and bold Cuban American style in a region that is decidedly more low-key Mexican American.

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