El Donahue

Forget Jerry and Phil. When it comes to Spanish TV, Miami's own Pedro Sevcec is the tiger of talk.

Not long after he returned home, Sevcec won a U.S. State Department-sponsored trip to the United States as part of an educational tour for Latin journalists. "I was dazzled," he recalls "because in this country, one's limit is determined by one's capacity." The United States began to look even better when he discovered that currency devaluation in Uruguay during his absence had dropped his salary from $2000 a month to $800.

Enamored of the United States, he came to Miami with nothing more than the promise of a job audition with the Spanish International Network, or SIN, a precursor to Univision. He won the position and soon became SIN's Central American bureau chief, based in San Salvador. From there he covered war and earthquakes throughout the region. "I've seen some terrible things," he says, "like flies coming out of dead men's mouths as children play around the corpses." As he speaks, he has just finished taping a new segment, "My Partner Wants a Divorce."

In 1986 Jacobo Zabludovsky, an anchor for the Mexican network Televisa, which had ties to Mexico's ruling party PRI announced he would be the director of SIN's news division. SIN's news staff, including Sevcec, resigned in protest. The network, they charged, would become a propaganda tool for the PRI. The journalists formed their own news team, Hispanic-American Broadcasting, or HAB, and found a major client in Telemundo Network. But not all was well in the Sevcec household; in 1987 he and his Uruguayan wife divorced. It was not the last time that a career change would include a change of partner.

In the pond-size but turbulent waters of U.S. broadcasting to Hispanics, most veterans have worked in all the media outlets at one time or another. Sevcec is no exception. In 1988 Telemundo dumped the HAB reporters, opting instead to receive its news from CNN.

Sevcec moved from television to print journalism, El Nuevo Herald, where he worked until 1993, first as a reporter covering stories such as the Panama invasion, Nicaraguan contras, and the collapse of the Berlin Wall, and later as a local-news editor. He says one of his proudest moments was his accurate prediction of the Sandinistas' electoral defeat in Nicaragua in 1990. During the same period, he did occasional work for Univision, then headed by an old friend of his, Chilean-born Joaquin Blaya, who had been an executive at SIN during Sevcec's tenure there.

In July 1987, a scant two months after Sevcec's wife granted him a divorce, he married Miami Herald reporter Liz Balmaseda, who six years later would win the Pulitzer Prize for commentary. The two became Miami's power media couple and then its most titillating, glamorous soap-opera duo when, six years later, Sevcec began an affair with Herald reporter Evelyn Larubbia. (Sevcec refuses to discuss the previous marriage).

Balmaseda discovered the affair and filed for divorce. In 1993 Sevcec returned to television. By now his friend Blaya was running Telemundo and offered Sevcec an anchor spot with the network's Ocurrio Asi news magazine program. By the following January, Sevcec and Balmaseda had parted ways in an acrimonious divorce. That same year, Blaya created Sevcec for his favorite employee. "He is one of those talents who can do everything in the medium," says Blaya. The timing was perfect, Sevcec acknowledges. He was ready for a change. "I've had my quota of [death]," he says today. "A drunk driver can kill me, a heart attack, or someone who doesn't like the program. But no more will I put myself in danger."

On this day the only violence Sevcec will encounter is found in the stories he elicits from three young gang members, Buddha, Playboy, and Gilbert, all trying hard to look tough as they sit on red chairs on the stage behind him. "Who is to blame for the existence of gangs?" asks our host. Gilbert's mother, also on the stage, gives a strong hint of who will be assigned the ultimate responsibility. Much of the drama of today's show will center around an eleven-year-old girl who wants to join a gang. Sevcec has already pointed out to his producers that the show's theme is "My Child Is in a Gang," not "My Child Wants to Be in a Gang." So she and her distraught parents will sit offstage through the boys' segment first. A security guard remains in the audience in case the father tries to throttle his daughter. Sevcec has also invited the obligatory therapist. Most Sevcec shows that concern relationships feature psychologists who provide sound-bite expertise. Marital difficulties are the bread and butter of Sevcec, as one producer says, and psychologists are always in demand.

It's often difficult to find people to fill the studio, since the show is taped at 4:00 p.m., when the able-bodied are at work, admits Madeline Sanchez, a Sevcec staffer. She relies primarily on four unpaid "people brokers" to organize groups of retired folks, who are then picked up by a Telemundo bus and taken to the studio. One such broker is Cuban American Estrella Mallea. "Whenever you see a bored old person, tell them to call Estrella," she advises. Mallea sits against a back wall of the studio, watching over her brood. There is a festive, familial air in the studio as audience members who know one another renew old acquaintances.

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