Arrarás, María Celeste: 1960
María Celeste Arrarás: 1960—: Journalist
The defection of María Celeste Arrarás from Univision, North America's largest Spanish-language network, to the rival Telemundo broadcasting group in 2002 roused industry attention and was heralded as the start of a new era for Hispanic media. Arrarás was given a plum spot at Telemundo, and her arrival coincided with news that the National Broadcasting Company (NBC)'s $2.7 billion acquisition of the Spanish-language news and entertainment provider had just won U.S. government approval. Arrarás, an attractive and admired media celebrity in the Latino world, was to host her own Telemundo show, but would also file English-language reports for Dateline, NBC's top-rated prime-time newsmagazine. Arrarás's hire—and the Telemundo/NBC venture—was seen as a sign of an increased Hispanic presence in mainstream media news organizations, and New York Times journalist Mirta Ojito called the new, lucrative contract for this popular journalist "NBC's first coup in the Latino media."
Arrarás was born in 1960 in the city of Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, but spent most of her youth in the country's capital, San Juan. Her father was a university chancellor who became a politician, serving as Puerto Rico's housing secretary and minority leader in the House of Representatives. Arrarás recalled in an interview with Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service reporter Judy Hevrdejs that she and her family were well-known in Puerto Rico because of her father's career. "I hated it. … whatever we would do, we would get interruptions constantly." She told Hevrdejs that as a child she vowed to lead a quieter life, one out of the public eye.
Found Career in Television Journalism
Arrarás grew up in an achievement-oriented family, and earned good grades. She was also a talented swimmer, and at the age of eleven took a gold medal at the 1971 Central American Games in Cuba. After qualifying for a spot on Puerto Rico's Olympic team for the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal, the teenaged Arrarás was forced to quit when she was diagnosed with mononucleosis. Sensing a need for a new challenge for his daughter, Arrarás's father suggested that she begin writing a column for a newspaper he owned. She was pleasantly surprised to realize she liked journalism. "It was like 'click,'" she told Ojito in the New York Times. "A light went on."
Fluent in English, Arrarás attended Loyola University in New Orleans, where she earned her 1982 honors degree in communications, and began her career in broadcast journalism with an all-news station in San Juan as an anchor and reporter in 1986. Soon, Univision's New York City affiliate hired her as its news anchor, and the WXTV job in Manhattan was considered a career-making post. Yet Arrarás was forced to give up the job when station executives deemed her not glamorous enough. It was a tough lesson, she remembered during a New York Times interview. "He said, 'I've handed you a bag of lemons. You can either get sour or make lemonade.' I chose to stay and make lemonade." Arrarás went on to other slots at the network, serving as Univision's bureau chief in Los Angeles and anchor of the weekend newscast in Miami. In time she was given a co-anchor spot with a well-known Univision personality, Myrka Dellanos, on the show Noticias y Mas. That news and feature-story show eventually became the hugely successful Primer Impacto, which would launch Arrarás's career in earnest.
At a Glance . . .
Born on September 27, 1960, in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico; daughter of Jose Enrique (a university chancellor, politician, and newspaper publisher); married Guillermo (divorced); married Manny Arevesu; three children. Education: Loyola University of New Orleans, BA, 1982.
Career: Univision television network, news anchor, 1986, Los Angeles bureau chief, 1987-1990s, Miami weekend newscaster, 1987-1990s, co-anchor of Noticias y Mas, 1990s, host of Primer Impacto, 1993-2001; writer, 1997–; actress, 1997–; Telemundo television network, host and managing editor of Al Rojo Vivo con María Celeste, 2002–.
Memberships: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), spokesperson.
Awards: Genesis Award, National Ark Trust Fund.
Address: Office— Telemundo Communications Group, Inc., 2290 West 8th Ave., Hialeah, FL 33010.
Airing in several U.S. markets and in 15 Latin American countries, with a total viewership of 100 million, Primer Impacto offered news and entertainment stories and even an astrology report. Arrarás was the host and reported on special events, such as the U.S. presidential conventions and the Olympics; she also interviewed top political leaders of the Latin world. The show's impressive ratings brought in lucrative advertising dollars for Univision, and one prime-time special edition of the show earned the second-highest rating—ever—in the Nielsen Hispanic Index. For many, though, Arrarás was the draw, and she seemed to hit her stride on the show. She loosened up her wardrobe and her hairstyles, and began making jokes. "For the first time, I could smile on the air," she recalled in an interview with Ojito. "It was refreshing and different, and it suited my personality better." She was also becoming a well-known figure in the South Florida Hispanic community, and found that she was a news story herself: every detail of her personal life was avidly chronicled by the local press. By this time she had wed a Miami attorney and had three children. The larger national Hispanic media in the United States also liked to run stories about her, and she became a popular cover personality. Deemed a role model for working mothers, Arrarás returned after one maternity leave to Primer Impacto and the show pulled in a record number of viewers.
During her tenure at Primer Impacto, Arrarás attained an important coup when she landed an exclusive interview with Yolanda Saldivar, the woman convicted of slaying Tejano singing star Selena in 1995. Saldivar had been a business associate of the star's family, and founder of the Selena fan club. Arrarás interviewed her from prison, and Saldivar hinted that there was a "secret" behind the tragic slaying. Arrarás pursued the story further and wrote a book, Selena's Secret: The Revealing Story Behind Her Tragic Death, that was published in 1997 in Spanish and English editions. The resulting press helped land Arrarás on People magazine's annual "Most Intriguing People of 1997" list.
Left Univision for Telemundo and NBC
In 2001, when Arrarás's contract with Univision expired, she chose not to renegotiate. Instead, she jumped ship to rival network Telemundo, and her decampment was made public the same week that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced its approval of NBC's bid to acquire Telemundo. Arrarás's bold move was considered such a coup for Telemundo that her hire was announced at a press conference in April of 2002 by NBC president Andrew Lack and Telemundo president Jim McNamara. NBC announced its intention to give her a show as well as reporting assignments for NBC news shows like Dateline and the Today Show. Arrarás, Lack told Ojito in the New York Times, "is a star, along the lines of talent like Diane Sawyer and Jane Pauley. I have confidence that she will bring her enormous talent to some of our programs in NBC."
Arrarás's new show was slated to debut that spring as well. The name Al Rojo Vivo con María Celeste was concocted by her best friend, she explained to Hevrdejs in the Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service report, and meant loosely "red hot"; it was also a pun on her middle name, Celeste, or "sky blue" in Spanish. "You can say, 'Oh my God! That interview was al rojo vivo.'" she told Hevrdejs. "Why? Because that person spoke out. They said everything. A confession." As both host and managing editor, Arrarás wanted Al Rojo Vivo to serve as a kind of "'paella noticias,' like a news paella," as she told Hevrdejs. "You have chicken, you have fish, you have sausage, you have rice and vegetables. And what happens is, in one hour, you have news from everything that is going on in the afternoon."
Al Rojo Vivo was a ratings success for Telemundo right from the start, but Arrarás's debut on Dateline was, again, a news story in itself. In August of 2002 she filed a report on ten-month-old conjoined twins from Guatemala who came to the United States for surgery that would separate them. "Wearing a blue sanitary paper hat and a matching UCLA Medical Center gown," noted Los Angeles Times writer Dana Calvo, "the glamorous María Celeste Arrarás made her NBC debut on Dateline and in the process made herself into the most prominent player in a blossoming media experiment." The Los Angeles Times article noted that Arrarás and other journalists who file stories for both networks would need to be extremely fluent in both languages. NBC president Lack, it was reported, had been a bit nervous about Arrarás's Dateline debut and her bilingual skills, but Lack told Calvo that Arrarás "was credible, so I didn't think viewers were sitting around thinking, 'Why is this Spanish-accented person doing this story?' I think they thought, 'This person knows the place, knows the story, and it's important and authoritative.' She's a serious, smart journalist."
News Star for Twenty-First Century
A Los Angeles Times article discussed the inherent differences in the Telemundo and NBC networks, from how a breaking news story is written to the amount and style of accessories its female journalists are allowed to wear on the air. But after just a few months on the job, Arrarás herself was surprised at how little a difference there was between the Spanish-language broadcasting stalwarts and a well-established, deep-pocketed news source like NBC. She said that as a Univision reporter, she and her colleagues had often dreamed of working in the "majors," as she called them. "We had this big myth that it would be a different ballgame—that it would be awesome, bigger and better," Arrarás told Calvo. "But, to my surprise, it was very similar. The only difference is there were more resources. You can pre-plan and take things at a more normal pace. In Spanish TV, we have less resources, so we are more aggressive. We are hungrier."
Despite the tremendous attention given to her debut Arrarás was frank about her talents. "I'm not the greatest anchor in the world," she told Ojito in the New York Times, "but what I lack in talent I make up with honesty." Arrarás is the first Latina celebrity spokes-person for PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and is working to ban circuses in Puerto Rico that use animals. Her high-profile job landed her on People en Espanol 's "10 Most Intriguing People of the Year" in 2002. With her own agent at entertainment-industry powerhouse William Morris, Arrarás was, in the end, still surprised by her choice of career—given the fact that she often disliked being in the public eye as a youngster. "I said I'll never do that," she said in the Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service interview, "and little did I know—I ended up doing the same thing."
Selena's Secret: The Revealing Story Behind Her Tragic Death, Simon & Schuster, 1997.
Notable Hispanic American Women, Book 2, Gale, 1998.
Broadcasting & Cable, April 15, 2002, p. 51.
Cincinnati Post April 12, 2002, p. 16C.
Electronic Media, April 15, 2002, p. 22.
Houston Chronicle, April 26, 2002, p. 10; July 26, 2002, p. 1.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News, April 10, 2002.
Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, February 26, 2002; April 11, 2002; April 19, 2002.
Library Journal, July 1997, p. 67.
Los Angeles Business Journal, April 15, 2002, p. 16.
Los Angeles Times, November 24, 2002, p. E35.
Multichannel News, April 15, 2002, p. 14.
New York Times, May 5, 2002, p. 1.
Publishers Weekly, January 27, 1997, p. 90.
Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ), April 12, 2002, p. 64.
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