Office With a View: Karen Barroeta says taking your time and using emotional intelligence can pay off
As she leads the network’s development strategy and oversees all long-form scripted productions across mediums, Barroeta scopes out pilots and projects that will appeal to Spanish-speaking audiences across the country for the NBCUniversal-owned property, which currently stands as the largest producer of Spanish-language scripted content in the United States. That requires making tough decisions and balancing data with gut checks.
While stressful moments might prompt one’s mind to race and immediately consider potential outcomes, Barroeta sees active listening as a way to take in all the necessary information. And the next step? Confide in a trusted advisor.
For Barroeta, who rose through the ranks of an industry dominated by men for decades and shifted from studying journalism to pursuing production as a career, finding mentors who saw something special in her was essential to climb the ladder.
“I’ve found amazing champions along the way who have definitely seen the potential in me,” Barroeta said. “Hard work [and] dedication has all obviously played an instrumental part of all of this, but without the champions, I also don’t think you can get this far.”
Champions “cultivate your confidence in you, because they have confidence in you… they will always be our voice of support and authoritative voice of support when you’re not in the room,” Barroeta said. “If you are starting your career, look up to people who can champion you, who can mentor you, because they will always have a word of advice.”
Barroeta also shared her insights on the essential elements of a pilot or series that draw in U.S.-based Spanish-speaking audiences, and demystified what it feels like to have a hit in your hands.
This conversation was edited for length and clarity.
In terms of TV projects, what have you found appeals to Spanish-speaking audiences in the U.S.?
For me, being here, it was all about the American dream… There are people that come here through the border, and it’s very tough for them, so having empowered characters, characters that come from rags-to-riches, characters that are aspirational that give the audience this motivational element, make them feel that you can make it, that maybe you fall but you can rise up — those type of characters, whether they’re heroes or antiheroes.
For example, “El Señor de los Cielos,” which is the story that we have right now on air, I can tell you the nice things about [the protagonist]: He’s very handsome. He’s a protector of his family. He fights for them, as hard as he can because he wants to protect them. But he’s a ladies’ man, and he’s also a drug lord. So he’s a total antihero, but our audience really loves him because he’s powerful, and he came from a humble background, and he made it on his own. He’s stood up, and he’s fighting everyone from politicians, to the DEA, to other drug lords. So people, in a way, want to see that you can make it here in the U.S.
What makes a pilot or a project successful at those beginning stages?
There are two answers to that: There is a qualitative side and a quantitative side to know. At the end of the day, there’s no secret formula that you can go on and buy, right? Otherwise, producers would buy it.
There is firstly a gut feeling of, “OK, this sounds great. I can get enough of the story” if I’m reading it, or if I’m getting a pitch, and then you have the quantitative side, and that’s the data. Nowadays, we use a lot of data to decide if we’re going to greenlight a series or not. We have a group of analysts that analyze the story against our audience profiles, against [questions like] are these character characters speaking to our audience? Is this the type of character that our audience wants to see and the type of storyline that aligns to what we want to have on our screen?
We also work with research, not for all the stories, but we do for many pilots, and we do concept testings, so we get those insights as well. We have our development committee that takes all this data, and then decides, are we greenlighting or are we not. But at the end of the day, there is always a huge risk. You never know how the audience is going to react.
What is something you’ve learned from the industry that you would like to pass on as knowledge to your peers and people who are growing their career?
When dealing with any type of crisis, you have to believe in yourself and in your abilities and in your potential. I think that if you cultivate that your confidence in yourself, you’re gonna be amazed. Sometimes it’s even more important than competence. Obviously, competence is very important. You have to be prepared, you have to work hard and you have to be very resilient. But research finds that confidence makes up 79% of your gravitas. So even if you just work very hard and do a great job, that’s not enough, if you don’t cultivate your confidence.
Loree joined TheWrap as a reporter in 2022 after interning at the publication during the summer of 2021. Loree has covered entertainment, film and television for TheWrap and has reported on the media industry and the cable news beat. She has also written for MovieMaker Magazine, where she interned in 2020.