When a rare case of a completely new show actually gets a chance to be seen on a widely viewed network, that’s cause for celebration. When one of the key creatives connected with it just happens to be a good friend, well, that’s cause to devote an entire musing to it.
So while the public at large is seeing the handsome face of Jaime Camil and the loveliness of sidekick Sheila E. as those who are aggressively promoting the debut of CBS’ LOTERIA LOCA, this is about the unlikely background of said creative. And the burning questions that I had when he agreed to meet with me last week.
So, appropriately, over some surprisingly healthy churros, I asked Aaron Solomon “How does a nice Jewish boy from the San Fernando Valley become a champion of a game show based on Mexican bingo?”
Solomon has a long history with bilinguality, being the son of a teacher who taught Spanish for decades. He already knew of the immense popularity with Latinos of LOTERIA, and how California Lottery scratcher tickets with that theme were amongst the best-selling in a state where nearly two in five people were so classified in the 2020 census. When he worked on Spanish-language iterations of the short-lived Facebook Live interactive quiz CONFETTI five years ago, an opportunity he got mostly because he was one of the few around the studio who actually could speak the language, he first got the idea that LOTERIA might be a great online game, and that, amazingly, there was nothing at the moment resembling it available. Parenthetically, he thought a big money game show could arise from it.
But he also knew that for as much as it is to PLAY bingo, it’s like watching paint dry for a home viewer. Solomon and I both have pedigrees with Game Show Network, which threw relatively big bucks at an ill-fated prime time offering called BINGO AMERICA years ago and was met with collective yawns. So the idea laid dormant until he was able to connect with showrunner and showman Jeff Apploff, who had cut through the clutter of primetime game shows with FOX’s DON’T FORGET THE LYRICS in the mid-2000s and was working on the 2022 revival when he and Solomon connected.
For years, Camil had, per Solomon, thought about developing the game, but those efforts bore no fruit. Once Solomon and Apploff came into the picture, things began to finally accelerate, as they presented tangible solutions to the horns of the dilemna that all of them know was the elephante in the room:
“How the hell do you make bingo interesting for television, right?” Camil said. “Jeff [Apploff] came up with all of these ideas and we brainstormed together. He really thought out-of-the-box and with my feedback and the writers’ feedback came up with this brilliant concept.
“He said, ‘Think of it as if a variety show, a game show and a late-night show had a baby, it would be us.’”
Camil, best known to US audiences from his roles in JANE THE VIRGIN and SCHMIGADOON! , has all the qualifications a good prime time game show host should have these days, including a burning passion to host a show he can vouch has its roots deeply enschonched in Mexican culture:
“Every single Mexican family owns a Lotería game or Lotería cards, without a doubt,” Camil said. “It’s not that far away from the mainstream audience as well; there are restaurants with Lotería motifs and clothing brands with Lotería collections … so [the US audience] is familiar with it and they know what the game is about.
Solomon, one of the best-liked executives I’ve ever known, regularly throws a Labor Day party at his home where he performs with a band that does covers of classic TV themes. This year’s “Burbstock” featured cookies with the Loteria card branding to introduce the game to us Gringos. It was almost as well-received as was their sunset performance. And mine was downright delicious to boot.
So with the able and connected Apploff as his champion (someone who just happened to move into a neighborhood where Sheila was his new neighbor), they found some interest from FOX, but ultimately that network passed. CBS showed atypical interest for a network that has historically eschewed appeal to Latinos. But under new local-focused management they are acutely aware of the gap that exists between those that watch linear TV and the Latino population. Per Bing:
(T)he proportion of TV viewers who are Latino in the U.S. was just under 10% across linear and streaming platforms in 2021. This is an increase from 6% in 2020, but still lower than the 19% representation of Latinos in the U.S. population1. The report also found that on-screen representation is a key factor in driving Latino TV viewing, as Latinos are more likely to watch shows that feature Latino characters and stories1.
So, yep, there’s upside here. And as you can see from this clip, the energy that’s being put into it is pretty impressive.
The challenge, of course, is to get CBS viewers, particularly those of its PRICE IS RIGHT lead-in, to stick around. National promotion has been limited to just that environment, and, candidly, I’m not sure how it will be received. So let me offer this up for those looking for another reason to watch:
While Aaron was developing and conceiving this baby, he and his gem of a wife Jill together followed suit, giving the world yet another wise Solomon, his son Elliot, last year. He left this precious child for several weeks to tape this series in, of all places, Madrid. It sounds glamorous, but, as Aaron assured me, it was hardly a vacation. And the level of passion among Spaniards for LOTERIA isn’t quite the same as it is among Latinos, thank you.
So do give this a look , and encourage your friends to do so as well. Nice guys–and their heirs–deserve a big win, too.
Until next time…