East Los High Soars with Behind the Scenes Stars

Celebrating Five Emmy Nominations and Upcoming Season Four


SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt., May 16, 2016 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- In three short years, East Los High has proven that top-notch Hollywood entertainment can also improve people's lives. In addition to one million unique visitors drawn to Hulu's Latino page every month, it's also a 5-time Emmy nominated drama that has helped tens of thousands of viewers learn if they should be tested for STDs or pregnancy. Winning critical acclaim from audiences, entertainers, and health providers, this show's conception and rise to stardom doesn't follow a normal Hollywood process.

East Los High was in development for years before its launch in the summer of 2013 as Hulu original programming. Bill Ryerson and Katie Elmore Mota worked for Population Media Center, the creator of East Los High and a nonprofit leader in entertainment-education around the world. But, East Los High's rise to stardom didn't follow the normal Population Media Center (PMC) process either.

"We had a lot of experience to build from, but one of our greatest strengths was the luck of perfect timing," says Ryerson talking about Katie Elmore Mota, an Executive Producer for East Los High. "We had Katie Elmore Mota on staff. Katie had years of experience implementing PMC programs, combined with recently completed graduate school experience, and an incredible drive to make East Los High succeed."

Ryerson founded PMC in 1998 to create serial dramas, like East Los High, but most of the nonprofit's work occurred in developing countries with a distinct lack of TVs or internet connections, which meant PMC dramas were radio dramas. Mota, who was Vice President for Communications and Programs, saw and seized the opportunity to help PMC expand into TV production in complex media markets.

"A funder came to us and really urged us to get into TV production in the US," says Ryerson. "That financial support was what made this possible. We could begin our normal processes for a drama, such as conducting formative research to assess the greatest need and meeting with creative personnel and distribution partners."

Ryerson and Mota went to work. Among other things, formative research revealed a greater than 50 percent chance of pregnancy before age 20 for Latinas in the US, giving PMC a specific target audience and some of the issues the drama would address. Ryerson and Mota used the time-tested PMC approach to entertainment-education to get the project going, including:

  • hiring producers, writers, and actors that are part of the community you're trying to reach;
  • focusing on entertainment and create a dramatic storyline that flows over many episodes;
  • including three types of character attributes (positive, negative, and transitional) to effectively role model behaviors but never dictate behavior to the audience;
  • establishing partnerships with organizations working on the health and social issues to act as an advisory board;
  • partnering with organizations, like local clinics or care providers, who can provide the services role modeled in the drama and will provide information on services accessed to assess drama impact.

Ryerson and Mota hired Carlos Portugal to direct the program and hire the East Los High writers. Ryerson, Mota, and Virginia Carter, a PMC board member with an Emmy and two Peabody awards to her credit, trained Portugal and the other writers in PMC's methodology. The basic tenets of PMC's approach created some noteworthy firsts for Hollywood, such as East Los High becoming the first Hollywood show to have all Latino writers and cast.

But, of course, the unknown elements didn't have the same PMC roadmap. East Los High would be broadcast in the complicated and competitive US media market, in a visual format, and use transmedia storytelling to create drama extensions for further interaction with the audience. All of these things meant navigating different sets of conditions. The introduction of transmedia storytelling, which was inspired by formative research demonstrating robust media usage by the target audience and Mota's recent Master's degree, meant thinking about how PMC's rules for the drama applied to drama extensions.

"Katie [Mota] and her team have really built upon the foundation PMC established to make East Los High the success it is today. They are the behind the scenes stars," says Ryerson. "The talent, production quality, everything – her foundation in entertainment-education, communications, and creativity have resulted in a fantastic show that's truly making a difference in the lives of its audience."

After season one, Mota left her full-time position at PMC to form her own Hollywood-based production company, Wise Entertainment, which now handles all elements of East Los High's production, building upon the framework established in season one.

"We at PMC are pleased to have a show that's attracting huge audiences, successfully imparting life-changing information, and a stunning piece of entertainment," says Ryerson. "We have licensed East Los High to Wise Entertainment because of their proven stewardship. We know that East Los High will continue to accomplish incredible things."

PMC is working on other dramas for the US while Wise Entertainment continues to improve and expand the impact ofEast Los High. This year, East Los High was nominated for outstanding Digital Daytime Drama Series and JD Pardo, who plays Jesus, was nominated for Outstanding Actor in a Digital Daytime Drama Series.

Make sure to tune in for season four, or #EastLosCuatro for the #ELHAddicts, which begins on July 15, 2016 on Hulu.


Population Media Center is a nonprofit, international development organization, which strives to improve the health and well-being of people around the world through the use of entertainment-education strategies, like serialized dramas on radio and television, in which characters evolve into role models for the audience for positive behavior change. Founded in 1998, PMC has years of field experience using its entertainment-education methodology of behavior change communications, impacting more than 50 countries around the world. www.populationmedia.org

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