South Florida Sun-Sentinel Article

By TOM JICHA TV/Radio Writer - 11/04/97

Giselle Fernandez is becoming as ubiquitous as Martha Stewart. The former South Florida anchorwoman also wouldn't mind becoming as entrepreneurial as Stewart.

After a troubled first year, Fernandez's syndicated Access Hollywood has taken hold and looks settled for the long haul. This Sunday night at 10, she will introduce a ground-breaking program on Galavision, Cafe Ole, the first talk show in English on the Spanish cable network. On Dec. 13, she and Cheech Marin will co-host the Latino Laughs Festival, a pay-per-view special that will eventually be shown on Showtime. A scheduling conflict postponed Fernandez's prime-time acting debut on Marin and Don Johnson's Nash Bridges, but she still hopes this will happen down the road.

This should be enough to keep anyone busy and content. Not Fernandez. Her priority is launching her own TV production company.

Fernandez, a former anchor for WCIX-Ch. 6 (now WFOR-Ch. 4), is proof that there is more than one route to the top. Her moves have been prototypes of how not to climb the career ladder. Yet they have all turned out spectacularly for her.

To take the job at WCIX, then a signal-troubled station in the nation's No. 16 market, she left a job in No. 3 market Chicago. WCIX's limited reach might have made it difficult for some South Florida viewers to see her work, but the brass at CBS took notice. She was recruited from the CBS-owned local station and wound on the network's most glamorous stages -- substituting for Dan Rather on The CBS Evening News; spelling Connie Chung on CBS Weekend News; filling in for Paula Zahn on CBS This Morning; serving as a featured correspondent on the network's news magazines.

Despite this fast track at CBS, she risked it all to jump to NBC. Again she earned the highest-profile assignments: subbing for Tom Brokaw on NBC Nightly News; anchoring the weekend newscast and co-anchoring the Weekend Today Show. She covered the Gulf War and landed an exclusive interview with Fidel Castro.

Then the woman who seemed on a Barbara Walters-Connie Chung-Diane Sawyer career path opted for the Mary Hart fork in the road. She chucked hard news to take a shot with Access Hollywood, a clone of Entertainment Tonight, when there was little evidence another ET-type show was needed. Through the first season of Access, it indeed seemed as if one ET is enough; Access barely hung on.

Gradually, however, Access has begun to take root. The turning point came when former CBS Sports correspondent Pat O'Brien was brought in as co-anchor. Ratings began to climb, especially in the largest markets. One month into its second season, Access Hollywood has already been renewed for a third.

It appears now as if Access could be around as long as ET -- but not with the ambitious Fernandez. She isn't applying any strict term limits, but she says there is no way she'll stick with any job for the 15 years Hart has been with ET. ``I don't think anyone should be with anything for 15 years,'' she says.

Hence her desire to branch out. Cafe Ole is aimed at one of the fastest-growing segments of the population -- second generation Hispanic-Americans, who speak predominantly English but still have an interest in people and events related to their heritage. Among those scheduled to appear are Marin, Maria Conchito Alonso and Jimmy Smits.

Fernandez, who will be in South Florida this month to tape segments, is the ideal host. Her father was a flamenco dancer and she lived part of her life in Mexico; her mother was American. ``I have a diverse background, thank God,'' she says. She hopes to take advantage of her background while wearing her producer's hat. ``I want to make movies, documentaries and specials that tap into both the Hispanic and English marketplace.''

Making this work is a passion. ``My role models are Barbara Walters, who has her own production company; Goldie Hawn and Jodie Foster, who have their own companies; and Oprah, who is the epitome of owning yourself. When you have your own company, you become your own person. That's what I want.''

Fernandez hopes that achieving these goals could make her a role model for Hispanic-American youth. ``I grew up without any role models. Whenever you saw a Hispanic, it was as a whore, a barmaid or a bum in a sombrero. Thank God, that is changing.''

Success stories like Giselle Fernandez's are contributing mightily to the change.

Copyright 1997, Sun-Sentinel Company and South Florida Interactive, Inc.

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