Father Albert's Pulpit Show

He's got looks, charm, and the church on his side. But even this priest may not save Telemundo's ratings.

The next segment begins with Cutié in the chair. "When did you first realize this was happening?" he asks Medina. As the young woman tells her story, the priest tries to guide it by asking for more details or clarification. Producers are trying to teach Cutié to be more inquisitive in his interviews. "He listens too much," complains Telemundo's Nely Galán. "He needs to talk more." Although Galán lives in Los Angeles, she is spending much of her time in Miami these days overseeing the development of the show. In between breaks she comes out to whisper advice in the priest's ear. At one point she urges him to delve deeper into this emotional subject.

"This has something to do with power doesn't it?" Cutié asks his guests on a couple of occasions, but fails to go into detail. By the end he gives the segment a positive spin by celebrating Medina's willingness to come forward about the harassment. After teasing out Medina's story and hearing from panelists seated in the audience, the first half of the show is in the can.

In a control room down the hall from the set sits executive producer Rafael Bello. The veteran producer has worked on Telemundo's Sevcec and one of the highest rated shows on U.S. Spanish-language television, Cristina, on Univision. (Cristina will be Cutié's competition.) "In the beginning everybody, and I mean everybody, told me it is very risky and you shouldn't do [Padre Alberto]," he relates. "Now it is a double challenge for me because I believe in the project and [I want] to prove it is one of the greatest ideas I have ever heard in my life."

The Padre Alberto show
Steve Satterwhite
The Padre Alberto show
Behind the scenes at the Padre Alberto show
Steve Satterwhite
Behind the scenes at the Padre Alberto show

Bello is also a parishioner at St. Patrick's Church. When Galán presented the idea of a priest talk show he immediately asked to produce the pilot. Unaware the network was considering Cutié, he suggested his priest for the part. The synchronicity simply added to the belief of many on the staff that they are on a mission from God.

"God won't let Father Albert fail," Galán remembers telling her bosses, only half in jest.

When Bello selected his staff, one of the prerequisites was a certain spirituality, he says. The approach extended to formatting of the program. Initially the idea was simply to have a regular talk show. But Galán, Cutié, Bello, and a few others went on a daylong spiritual retreat at the Juan Pablo II Retreat Center off Biscayne Boulevard to brainstorm.

Out of the experience came the idea for a show that would be half daytime talk show, à la Oprah, half Politically Incorrect. Each episode would center on an issue such as "women who want to leave their husbands." Future topics for Father Albert to delve into include "victims of racism," "what to do when in an unhappy marriage," and "is one born gay?" Cutié will do an in-depth, therapy/confessionlike interview with a person who is wrestling with the show's topic. In the front row of the audience others in similar situations will offer their brief testimonies. The requisite experts -- the lawyers and psychologists -- will also be on hand to answer questions.

Star power comes in the second half, which features a four-person roundtable, one of whom will be a celebrity. Big-name actors Jorge Rivero, Maria Conchita Alonso, and singer Lucia Mendez have all signed on. "I wanted to show something Latinos hadn't seen before, which is members of your community talking about an issue," explains Galán.

Bello says the producers have received two very different responses from the celebrities they have approached. Some like the idea of confiding in a priest but others are afraid. "There are a lot of people who feel wounded by the church and don't want to explain their problems to a priest because they feel like they will be judged," he says. Bello believes once people see how lighthearted and easygoing Cutié is, they will be more willing to appear.

During the break Cutié convinces the audience to stand and dance the hokey-pokey and el pollito to get their blood flowing. It's a curious sight, the elderly audience and the young priest twirling around, shaking their arms and legs in the air. Although this exercise is standard on the show, during another episode about missing children, Cutié decided it wasn't appropriate to do the jigs at intermission.

For the roundtable portion of this show, producers have assembled two actresses, a psychologist, and a radio host. The main celebrity is the buxom Mexican telenovela star Lorena Herrera. She confesses she was sexually harassed twice at the beginning of her career, then later in the program downgrades that number to one; the accused was a powerful man in the industry, but she declines to name him.

The show really comes to life when Miami radio host Carlos D'Mant commandeers the program with ribald one-liners and open skepticism regarding the gravity of sexual harassment. Cutié struggles to maintain a tone of some seriousness. "What do we do for victims who maybe don't know they are victims and should be denouncing this?" he asks. A few seconds later D'Mant declares: "There are a lot of women who say 'no,' but really mean 'don't stop.'" Cutié responds with a grin: "This is not that kind of program."

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