Producer Peter Murietta on Latinos in Television: "There’s Always Room for Improvement"

Emmy-winning Executive Producer, Peter Murrieta (Wizards of Waverly Place) was recently given the Outstanding Achievement Award by the NALIP (The National Association of Latino Independent Producers). The award honors media luminaries who help to change the way Latinos are viewed in television and film. I caught up with Peter, and the talented half-Mexican exec—whose show Wizards of Waverly Place currently represents the only Latino family on TV now that Ugly Betty is gone—told me he’s optimistic about the current and future state of Latinos on television!

Congratulations on your award! How did it feel to win the NALIP Award for Outstanding Achievement last week?

It was a real pleasure! I didn’t know until I got there that they don’t give it out every year—only when they feel like somebody’s earned it. So that was pretty cool!

During last week’s NALIP Conference, you moderated a panel on family sitcoms. What were some of the issues discussed?

We were discussing the idea that’s counter to the prevailing opinion that family sitcoms have gone away—and that because of Modern Family and The Middle, we are now in a renaissance of them. We were also talking about how the Disney Channel—where I do my current show, Wizards of Waverly Place, and other outlets like TBS—have been providing family sitcoms in the basic cable universe. It’s not really a question of ‘if’ sitcoms went away—they just went somewhere else for a while.

Lets talk a little bit about the recent cancellation of ABC’s Ugly Betty. Why do you think family shows about Latinos don’t last as long?

With 7th Heaven being on the WB, it was much more likely to stay on the air at a lower threshold of ratings. The WB was a network that was more about demographics than it was about the full, big audience. And so a place like that—while it may not turn out dollars for the people who are acting, writing and producing as much as a bigger network does—it provides a certain level of security. I think the landscape has changed so much that it’s not bad to say four seasons is a success to tell the story of the Suarez family on Ugly Betty.

Latinos account for only about 3 percent of TV roles—less than that now that Betty’s gone—but we make up about 15 percent of the U.S. population. What does that say to you?

There’s always room for improvement. We are definitely in positions where we are being taken seriously, and we are a viable option. We just need to continue to work. I don’t think there are any real barriers in our way to pitching shows and getting shows shot and considered. But at the end of the day, networks want to make money and they have a certain standard that they want them to be, and we as a group of people are starting to show that we’re viable in terms of making people money.

Your show Wizards of Waverly Place features a blended family that includes an Italian dad and a Mexican mom. Who came up with the idea of making the family blended?

Me. A good writer writes what he knows, and that’s part of my experience growing up. If I am going to bring anything to the table, then that’s going to be one of the things that I’m going to bring.

In your career, have you encountered any resistance in trying to create Latino characters or cast Latinos in lead roles?

No, in fact, I worked on All About the Andersons, and it was not my show. I did not create the show, and I was not the show runner, and yet I brought Aimee Garcia in as a regular, and everyone was really excited about it.

Are you optimistic about where Latinos are headed on TV?

Sure! Wizards of Waverly Place won the first Emmy that the Disney Channel has ever won for a series this year, and the Wizards movie was the highest rated cable telecast of ’09 across the board—not just in children’s programming. We have proven that we’re a viable market.

Do you think that Selena Gomez can become as big of a star as Miley Cyrus?

I think Selena can do anything she wants to do, and I think she is going to have her chance to do that. I’m very excited for her, and very excited to have been one of the people responsible for getting her out there.