When it comes to Wednesdays at Michael’s, the early bird might not always get the best table, but today it did land me something of a timely scoop. Some time before noon, I spotted Rachel Uchitel, the woman whose texts to Tiger Woods helped bring down the golf legend and launched a thousand tabloid headlines in 2009. I half expected her to bolt when I identified myself as a reporter, but she was gracious and downright chatty when I asked about the countless reports that her recent “Everyone deserves a second chance” tweet was a thinly veiled reference to Tiger and Lindsey Vonn‘s joint announcement on Facebook that they were dating.
“Everyone in the media immediately thought it was about Tiger,” she told me exclusively. “I still have not talked about him and never will. I haven’t told anyone about this, but the tweet was about my 94-year-old grandfather, Sam Lionel, who is getting married. His fiancee is 52 and there has been some family drama about it, so that’s what I was referring to. I’m even throwing her a bachelorette party.” Rachel, who just moved back to New York from San Francisco, told me that The New York Post approached her about writing an article about the recent turn of events but she turned them down flat. “First of all, check your facts, thank you very much,” she said referring to their reporting about her tweet. “And also I’d never write anything about that.”
Rachel told me these days she is “totally obsessed” with her 10-month-old daughter Wyatt Lilly who took her first steps yesterday. (Dad is husband Matt Hahn.) “I love that she wants a big kiss just from me sometimes. It’s the first time that I really have come to understand just what unconditional love is. You think you can get it from a man, but this is so different. She is my whole existence.” Being a mother, says Rachel, has given her a sense of peace and satisfaction that had previously eluded her, but she still is sorting out where she wants to go from here. “I don’t want to be away from her and miss anything.” Still, though, she’d like to find “meaningful work.” Says Rachel, “For the past three years I have struggled with my identity. I used to be a journalist, but since 2009 it has been difficult to find a job because of the baggage attached to me.” She’s been offered several reality shows and did a stint on Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew, but has turned them all down. “It’s hard, but now that I’ve moved back to New York, I’d like to find something interesting to do.” For the woman whose tear-stained face made the cover of The New York Post when she first lost her then fiancé on 9/11 (a tearsheet hangs in the Smithsonian) and then went on to become the poster girl for one of the biggest celebrity scandals of the decade, life in recent years has been a series of headlines. That’s a pretty attractive quality in an employee in certain circles is this town, isn’t it?
I had a fascinating and enjoyable lunch with Emilio Romano, (pictured, right) president of Telemundo Media and the network’s vice president of corporate communications and public affairs, Michelle Alban. The charming and dynamic Emilio joined the company in 2011 and in his current position runs Telemundo’s broadcast network, its 15 owned stations, as well as the company’s entertainment division and Telemundo Studios, which is the No. 1 producer of original Spanish language primetime content for Hispanics in the United States. He also oversees the news and sports divisions, Telemundo’s digital media group and the company’s sales and marketing arms. I’ve talked to plenty of media titans in this dining room over the years, and I can say without question I found Emilio to be one of the most engaging, genuine and interesting executives I’ve ever met. While telling me about all the exciting things happening at Telemundo these days, he chatted easily with the wait staff about where they were from and asking them in Spanish what they watched on television and why.
Emilio isn’t exactly your average television executive. Over nearly two decades, his career has spanned senior positions in diverse fields including aviation (he launched Click Mexicana, the first low-cost carrier in Mexico), Internet start-ups and media. He has served on the board of directors of Claxson Interactive and Univision where he directed several high-profile deals, including the Sky Latin American joint venture with News Corporation, Organizacoes Globo and TCI. He also managed the largest cable network in Mexico. At the start of his career, Emilio worked within the Mexican Ministry of Finance and was the chief negotiator on more than 50 treaties. “I wanted to be an economist,” he told me. When his father dissuaded him, telling him he’d wind up working for the government, he became a lawyer. “And I still wound up working for the government. It was a very creative time working on those treaties,” he explained, adding that he also worked on drafting NAFTA. “Everything I learned from what I’ve done before applies to this job and has helped me do what I do now.”
As Telemundo’s president, Emilio presides over one of the most valued and valuable media entities in Comcast’s NBCU stable. “The momentum is there and continues to build,” says Emilio. With a record-breaking start to the new year, Telemundo Media had its most successful February in history averaging more than 1.3 million total viewers in primetime and just reported its best first quarter ever with a 7 percent increase in viewers over last year. Most significantly, says Emilio, a whopping 88 percent of those Telemundo viewers watch network primetime programming live. Out of the 50.5 million Hispanics in the U.S, 24 million are Spanish dominant (with Spanish as their first language) and 14 million of those comprise the highly desirable 18-49 demo. On any given evening, between 3-4 million viewers are watching Spanish language networks of which Telemundo gets close to a 30 share. “We speak to them through the screen,” says Emilio. “So many of our viewers who have left Mexico have come to the states for a better life but they miss their home country. They turn on the television, because they want to watch something that connects them to home.”
Emilio told me that Telemundo’s mission to create and deliver original content to the ‘Spanish dominant’ has been bolstered by Comcast’s aquisition of NBCU. “It’s been great to have an owner who believes in our business and invests in all areas from talent to infrastructure.” As part of NBCU, he added, “We can have our cake and eat it too. We can completely focus on the Spanish dominant viewer while NBC Universal is adding more Spanish flair to its programming. We work closely to make that happen with NBC News, sports, entertainment and even with the movie studio.”
Telemundo’s influence in the media universe was clearly evident last summer when, for the first time, the network had their own news anchors and sports analysts cover the summer Olympics and hit the jackpot when Mexico bested Brazil for the gold medal in soccer. “It was the perfect time for us to be there and the viewers really responded,” says Emilio. It’s the viewers that are first and foremost on Emilio’s mind, and that’s what he wants his executives to focus on. “Don’t create programming that you want them to watch or what you think they should watch. I tell them to create programming that they want to watch. You always get in trouble when you lose focus of what the viewer wants. That is why (we) create original content. Our novelas are not re-purposed they are created for our viewer. We do it from scratch using the best talent we can find.” Obviously, viewers are responding. The novela La Patrona recently outperformed English-language programming among the 18-49 demo in its time slot and hit 2 million total viewers. Just this week, Telemundo announced plans to debut La Voz Kids, a kiddie-centric Spanish lanuage version of the NBC’s The Voice, for aspiring singers ages seven through 14 in May. “We think this will be the show that draws in the whole family, because so many mothers lives revolve around their children.”
The network shows no signs of slowing down as the worldwide audience for Telemundo’s content, which is currently sold in 100 countries, continues to grow. Emilio tells me Telemundo is launching a cable channel in Sub-Saharan Africa dubbed in English and Portuguese.
Besides talking television with Emilio, I got to chat with Michelle (who is such a dead ringer for Sandra Bullock that I had to do a double take when she arrived) about her fascinating career path. Sorry, but you’ll have to take my word about her star doppelganger, because she was camera shy today. This impressive power gal is a Desert Shield vet who served in the United States Air Force under General Colin Powell. Even Emilio hadn’t known the real story about her impressive four-year tour of duty in the military, and our jaws dropped as she told us of her tales of survival training. Other media flacks might appear made of tough stuff but, after hearing this, she gets my vote. Wow.
Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:
1. Hollywoodlife.com EIC Bonnie Fuller, Penske Media Vice Chair Gerry Byrne and publisher and EVP Carlos Lamadrid with Rachel Uchitel, Paige Management Group’s Brian Mazza, Lerer Ventures’ Stephen Colvin, Bloomberg Surveillance’s Tom Keene, The Wall Street Journal‘s media scribe Keach Hagey, Andrea Miller of Your Tango and Les Berglass.
2. Director (Chicago) Rob Marshall with some casually clad pals
3. ‘Mayor’ Joe Armstrong and David Zinczenko. The Mayor tells me he’s off to Israel for the next two months to work with children in need as a volunteer and goodwill ambassador for The Hole in the Wall Gang camps. Shalom!
4. John O’Keefe and Richard Younger. John, who arrived well before the rest of the crowd, regaled me with tales of his 30-plus years as a consultant for The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Nice to meet you!
5. Peter Brown, with, we’re told, a long time friend named ‘Irene’
6. The “Imber Gang:” Dr. Gerald Imber (fresh off his trip from St. Bart’s), Jerry Della Femina, Andy Bergman, Michael Kramer and the returning Jeff Greenfield. Welcome back!
7. Emilio Romano, Michelle Alban and yours truly
8. New York Social Diary‘s David Patrick Columbia and Quest‘s Chris Meigher with some of the talented and tireless folks who produce Quest
9 Lifestyle maven Sandra Lee (Looking oh so chic in ivory and black) with Hearst’s Newell Turner, who stopped by our table to say hello. A little birdie told me the latest issue of Sandra’s new lifestyle magazine is flying off the shelves. Congrats!
11. Bob Friedman
12. Producer Joan Gelman with her sons Josh Gelman and Gregg Gelman
14. The lovely Joan Jakobson
15. Lally Weymouth
16. SELF EIC Lucy Danziger and chef/author Katie Lee (Yes, the ex-Mrs. Billy Joel). The gals were celebrating Katie’s new healthy cooking column and digital video series for Conde Nast’s healthy living-fitness bible. Katie’s monthly how-to debuts in the April issue out next week. Gwyneth Paltrow (whose website Goop we find strangely fascinating) is the cover girl.
82. PR partners Hamilton South and Lynn Tesoro, who earlier this month settled her ‘slap’ $ 1 million lawsuit against Jalou publishing house president Marie-Jose Susskind-Jalou and her daughters Jennifer Eymere and Vanessa Bellugeon of Jalouse and L’Officiel. The terms of the settlement were not disclosed. A word of advice to all those finicky fashionistas out there: If you don’t like your seat at a show produced by HL Group during Fashion Week, keep quiet and for goodness sake, keep your hands to yourself. You’ve been warned.
81. Author Wednesday Martin
17. Steven Haft
18. Jeanine Pirro
21. Producer Beverly Camhe
22. John Steele
23. Fashion maven Judy Licht
24. Steven D. Greenberg
27. Ed Rollins, who was feted with a surprise birthday luncheon organized by his wife Shari Rollins to celebrate his 70th birthday. Among the table of revelers: New York Post columnist Michael Goodwin, Fox Business host Lou Dobbs, political commentator and marketing man Robert Zimmerman and attorney Bernard Clair. It was Bernard, who I first met in the dining room last year for a fascinating lunch where we discussed high-profile divorces (he’s the go-to guy for some of the city’s most high profile uncouplings), who brought me over to the table to make some introductions. When I asked Ed how he was marking this milestone birthday, he told me, “We went to war on my 60th and got a new pope on my 70th. I’m not sure what I can do to top it for the next one.” Indeed.
29. The Wall Street Journal‘s David Sanford and Lewis Stein
Please send comments and corrections to DIANECLEHANE at MEDIABISTRO dot COM and LUNCH at MEDIABISTRO dot COM.