John Leguizamo isn’t previously known for his interview skills, but he sure likes to talk. And this may be enough.
The actor and comedian is best known for his theater work in shows such as “Mambo Mouth” and “Latin History for Morons” as well as in films such as “Carlito’s Way” and “Encanto.” However, he may have a chance to play a role in documentaries previously hosted by the likes of Anthony Bourdain, Stanley Tucci and W. Kamau Bell.
Interviewing people “isn’t really what I naturally do,” Leguizamo said in a phone interview. “Luckily, I’m a friendly mom, so that works in my favor.
In April, his on-air skills will be put to the test when MSNBC debuts a six-part series called “Leguizamo Does America.” Produced by NBC News Studios, the series spotlights Latin America’s contributions to food, culture, activism and more. The series focuses on Leguizamo, who is seen visiting New York City, Miami and other American cities, “about the big part of America that we know but don’t really know.”
The series also reveals more about the journalistic ambitions of both NBC News and MSNBC, who have decided to do more with original films and documentaries, as one of their main rivals is pulling back. Last month, CNN announced that it would cut major movies and TV shows in its programming for nearly a decade. CNN will air six of its original series and six CNN Movies in 2023, but intends to reduce its reliance on third-party content. Legiazmo’s new program continues a format that has worked well in the past, taking a smart expert or influencer to see places and people they might not normally meet.
“There are audiences who don’t receive this content where they’re used to it, and we want them to join us,” said Amanda Spain, vice president of longform acquisitions at MSNBC. We fill that place with joy.
Leguizamo was inspired by his recent play, “Latin History for Morons,” which examines the suppression and oppression of Latinos in American culture. “It really sparked something in him,” said series director Ben DeJesus, Leguizamo’s production partner. “The show is a celebration of Latino culture — the food, the music, the arts, and the people who are really making an impact.” Indeed, 70% of the production staff for the series is Latino, Leguizamo says.
But the series also gives the impression that the people Leguizamo meets haven’t gotten what they deserve in the past. “There’s an attempt to humanize us because we leave everything behind,” said Carolina Saavedra, the show’s executive producer. The overall tone of the series is one of optimism, she says, as Leguizamo meets Jorge Lopez and Michael Pena and others, but there are issues she’s eager to address in the conversation.
That mix of culture and politics is what made the series a perfect fit for MSNBC. Executives have noticed that the network’s original movies tend to attract viewers who aren’t regular users of its linear programming, said Rashida Jones, president of the cable-news outlet. She believes the alliance with Leguizamo could put him under MSNBC’s umbrella and prompt him to comment on the network’s issues. She says she can see Leguizamo appearing on MSNBC programs. “He definitely has something to say.”
The first effort to work with Leguizamo began with veteran NBC News producer Liz Cole, president of NBC News Studios. She marveled at the “depth of research” the actor put into “Latin history” and asked, “What if we took that interest and that knowledge and focused on modern culture?” she wondered. she recalls. “Let’s look at what is happening in the country today.
NBC News Studios began operations in early 2020 and represents NBC News’ efforts, from producing true crime series for cable networks to producing signature series for streaming sites and other platforms — both owned by parent company NBCUniversal and outside partners. According to Noah Oppenheim, president of NBC News, the company can provide the archive and reporters to help with any concept, as well as provide connections to talent.
Other projects are also in progress. NBC News Studios plans to release three documentary features next year, including one that will be broadcast theatrically by Focus Features. The unit is also working on scripted properties, following its work on the scripted NBC miniseries “The Thing About Pam,” based on NBC News’ long-running “Dayline” story.
Leguizamo hopes his new series will have legs. He is already set to do another six-part cycle. Executives will no doubt want to see how the first one does on both cable and streaming before deciding on next steps.