Executive-produced by Eva Longoria, ABC’s new summer drama, Grand Hotel, is set in Miami Beach. The action takes place at the fictional Riviera Grand, which was modeled after the very real and very famous Fontainebleau Miami Beach.
The show is a remake of Spain’s 2011 series Gran Hotel, which was set in the year 1905. ABC’s version takes place in modern times on the sandy shores of South Beach — and many castmates and production crew members are Miami natives.
The showrunner and lead writer, Brian Tanen, was born and raised in Miami. Jencarlos Canela, who plays a Pitbull-inspired character named El Rey, also grew up in the Magic City and graduated from New World School of the Arts. Rounding out the cast is Shalim Ortiz, who's not only a Miami native but also the son of the Dominican TV personality Charytín.
The stars of the show were in town Monday night for a special red-carpet event and screening at the Fontainebleau's nightclub, LIV.
“We had a number of Miami connections on the writers' staff as well,” Tanen said as he walked the carpet and stopped to speak with New Times. “We had a writer named Danny Fernandez who’s from Miami, [and] our writers' assistant was also from Miami, so there was a pretty good 305 representation in our writers' room,” he said with a laugh.
“Miami is my hometown,” Tanen added. “I grew up here, so when I went about writing the show, it just felt authentic to make it about this type of family... To reflect that in the show felt both natural and important... I think local viewers will really get a kick out of seeing how 'Miami' this place is and these characters are.”
The story line follows the Mendoza family, which owns the popular South Beach hotel the Riviera Grand. The family patriarch is married to his second wife, who happens to be the former best friend of his dead first wife. Naturally, the two branches of his family don't always get along. Drama ensues, but there's also plenty of sun and sand. The plot tackles the traditional upstairs/downstairs trope but spins it on its head.
“I was lucky enough to have hired the writer Brian Tanen to create the world, and it was he who set it in Miami, and he set it as a Latino family,” Longoria explained. “You can’t be in Miami without seeing a Latino, so he made [the Riviera Grand] the last family-owned hotel in Miami.”
Most audiences are accustomed to seeing a Latino playing the hotel cleaning staff, but in this show, it’s a Latino who is in charge while American actors are dressed in less-than-stylish garb. As Longoria puts it, “I was excited to do an upstairs/downstairs show where the upstairs was Latino, where the affluent, educated, independent people where Latino."
The moment the pilot begins, it’s clear the Mendoza family is like no other Latino family on network television today. Matriarch Gigi Mendoza, played by Puerto Rican actor Roselyn Sanchez, opens the show dressed in a posh skin-tight white dress while standing over an American employee. It’s clear from the start who yields the power.
“All of a sudden and for a change, it shows Latinos in a position of power and in a position that effects change,” Ortiz said. “When you combine that with such a diverse cast... great things happen.”
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Asked how he would feel as an ordinary Latino-American watching this show, Ortiz lit up. Smiling broadly, he said, “I would be very proud of seeing something like this on TV.”
“For me, representation matters so much,” Longoria added. “It not only informs people about our community, but it informs our community about ourselves. And so being able to see possibilities on the screen — [for viewers to think] I can do that; I can be that — is important.”
A show about Latinos, starring Latinos, produced by Latinos, and written by Latinos — it sounds too good to be true. Here’s praying to Papa Dios it’s a trend we continue to see.
Grand Hotel. Premieres on ABC at 10 p.m. Monday, June 17.