ABC and Univision’s love child bursts to life

MIAMI – The long-awaited DNA exchange between ABC and Univision emerges from the test tube this month, aiming to stretch the limits of traditional network programming. The English-language television network, called Fusion, will target millennial Hispanics and their BFFs as it attempts to capitalize on a generation for which cultural fusion is the norm and digital media is king.

The network will provide something of a grab bag: a mix of hard news, commentary, sports and irreverence aimed at 16- to 30-year-olds. Sure, there will be nightly news programs, but also an animated puppet news and entertainment show by David Javerbaum, former head writer of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” Think Comedy Central, the hipster online magazine, ABC and Univision, all in one.

“Not everyone will get it; and that’s sort of the point,” Univision News President and now Fusion CEO Isaac Lee wrote in a memo to staff earlier this month.

To “get” what Fusion is attempting, it helps to tour its home and meet the players:

The green and blue mood-lighting of the warehouse-turned-news hub known as Newsport suggests Miami Beach club over newsroom. Like millennials who can’t afford to move out on their own, Fusion shares the cavernous space with Spanish-language parent Univision News. Senior staff members gather for brainstorming sessions in brightly painted and glass-walled rooms overlooking the newsroom.

On a recent afternoon, Lee strode across the floor like the head of a Silicon Valley startup, sketching flow charts of Fusion’s evolution. As he talked, one millennial staffer wrestled a ping pong ball from the mouth of Chocolate, Lee’s brown Labrador. Others chimed in on the essence of the network that goes live Oct. 28.

As befits a project geared to a generation used to downloading the latest mobile update, Fusion has been beta testing in plain view. In 2011, Lee brought together a group of recent journalism school graduates to work on an English-language Tumblr for Univision. The young journalists created original news, curated stories and produced short documentaries.

Lee learned what worked (humor) and what didn’t (direct Univision translations). The approach bought him time to win over holdouts at Univision, a company that built its brand on Spanish-language affinity.

“I hate ties. They are really useless. Why do I have to have a piece of cloth hanging from my neck every day?” fumed Jorge Ramos, the silver-haired veteran Univision anchor with piercing blue eyes, one of a handful of senior journalists to join Fusion.

Ramos, who co-hosts Univision’s popular nightly newscast with Maria Elena Salinas, will pull double duty. He frankly acknowledges his own millennial kids don’t watch his Univision newscast, or any other.

Ramos doesn’t plan to dumb things down. He does plan to mention Mexico – the country sharing 2,000 miles of the United States’ southern border – almost as much as he mentions Syria.