Country fans have Nashville. Hip-hop fans have Empire. And now, Latin American music fans have South Beach. Produced by Miami-based Dolphin Entertainment, Hulu’s upcoming musical soap opera, though fictional, is rooted in South Florida.
Born from the desire to film a show in his hometown, Dolphin President and South Beach Executive Producer Bill O’Dowd teamed up with writer Brian Hurwitz to create the Hulu original series, which surrounds dueling record companies in Miami.
“The whole thing’s in South Florida, which I love,” O’Dowd told New Times. “We’re filming from locations like Grand Central, and a couple local bars like Gramps. Then we have locations all around downtown that double up as record company offices and police stations and all that fun stuff.”
Grand Central (under a different name for the show) was the main nightclub theater setting for filming South Beach. “We spent four days there,” O’Dowd says. “It’s nice to have a show that’s set in Miami that actually shoots in Miami. A lot of shows shoot in California and come out here for a couple days to shoot exteriors.”
While the series has been in the works for the past few years, its summer 2015 release seems like perfect timing. Hulu recently announced its purchase of the online rights to Fox’s Empire, a similarly formatted show that broke ratings records with its first season.
South Beach will teem with the same musical passion and non-stop drama of other soap shows, as the plot demonstrates. Long-time leader Donovan Lear Entertainment represents Carmen Suarez (played by Miami-raised Ana Villafañe), a beautiful pop star who tops the charts in both English and Spanish. As Carmen prepares for the world tour behind her latest No. 1 single, her life gets messy when she falls for Michael Bell, the rising DJ from ADLV Music Group, Lear's hated rival run by his former flame, Antigone de la Vega. Add the murder of fictional Miami Beach Mayor Gus Garcia and mob activity, and we’ve got one melodramatic guilty pleasure to look forward to each week.
“When I first started our company back in ‘96, I was friends with some of the guys who ran Universal Music here, Sony Music...so I knew that the record labels were here for the Latin divisions,” O’Dowd said. “What we did in our show was broaden it and said, ‘Imagine if these record labels also represented the mainstream artists as well as the Latin artists, and we created a rivalry between two of them, of course, to make it a soap opera.”
O’Dowd says if you marry Dallas-type soap opera and Nashville, you kind of get South Beach. Viewers can expect a premiere in late July, he says.
“Miami people are going to love it because they recognize the places we’re going to,” O’Dowd says. “I think that’ll be fun, because of course this is meant to go on for multiple seasons so, knock on wood, we’ll have a good run through summer and fall and we’ll come back to shoot this time next year.”
Adding to the show’s Miami-centric theme is its star, Ana Villafañe, who was discovered by Dolphin Entertainment when she was still attending Lourdes Academy. Since signing with Dolphin she's appeared in films like Hiding and Max Steel, the live-action film based on the Mattel superhero, which comes out this year.
“She’s about to blow up,” O’Dowd says. “She’s someone we cast out of high school a few years ago. She was the lead of one of their spring musicals and we said, ‘Holy cow, who’s that high school junior with a four-octave range?.’”
Villafañe plays Carman Suarez, a lovable but somewhat spoiled pop star about to go on her first world tour. O’Dowd, who says the character sings in both English and Spanish, describes her as kind of a Shakira-meets-Rhianna crossover artist. When Suarez hits a bump in the road, however, her manager takes her back to her Miami roots to reconnect. The cast and crew filmed at Calle Ocho’s Hoy Como Ayer, where Villafañe performed with Miami band, Suénalo.
“She sang a cover of one of their songs...and we just recorded all that and recorded enough footage to make a music video out of it,” O’Dowd says. “We like adding those touches of Miami authenticity, and they’re arguably one of the two or three most popular local bands in Miami and they’re fantastic…. We do a handful of those types of touches in the show, and handing a little nod out to the best parts of Miami is kind of neat.”
O’Dowd says Villafañe has recorded around four original songs for South Beach, which will be made into music videos to promote the show on Hulu prior to its debut. The songs and score for the series are being written and produced by executive music producer Ali Dee Theodore of DeeTown Entertainment. Theodore has created music for more than 40 No. 1 box office films and produced the RIAA triple platinum single "Cups" by Anna Kendrick in Pitch Perfect.
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Between Dolphin’s distribution worldwide and Hulu’s vast reach, South Beach will be seen in more than 100 countries.
“When you think of cities to set a soap in — and it’s not anything against Dallas or Nashville — but arguably the sexiest city in the world and the most iconic city as a crossroads between Latin America, Europe, and the U.S., is Miami. There isn’t anyone in the world who doesn’t have an image of Miami when you say ‘Miami’ or ‘South Beach.’"
Fortunately for viewers, especially local ones, that image will be a little more authentic than most efforts to portray the city. O’Dowd says the show won’t fall in the trap of making Miami little more than “sexy girls in bikinis on the beach.” The art and music element of the series shows off what else Miami has to offer, and actual Latino actors playing Latino characters makes it even more like the Miami O’Dowd knows.
“A lot of times, especially with how Hispanics are portrayed, are from people that aren’t from Miami. [Hispanics] are the professionals in this town, too. They can run companies, they can be the head of cops ... We wrote a role for a Haitian woman to be head of detectives. We love that; you never see that portrayed. That’s the Miami I grew up in ... It’s not all maids and gardeners — it’s record executives and performers and police detectives, and I think it’s great.”