In September 2013, Univision investigative journalist Gerardo Reyes turned down an interview with a source he had been chasing for years. The notorious Mexican drug trafficker Joaquín Guzmán Loera, widely known as “El Chapo,” had agreed to an interview with Reyes—with the caveat that he wanted approval on the final product. Reyes declined. “We don’t allow people to review what they say when we interview them,” he says in an interview with CJR.
A few years later, in January 2016, El Chapo hit the headlines internationally when he was captured by Mexican security forces, and US actor Sean Penn claimed the prize interview in a story published by Rolling Stone. Penn had acquiesced to El Chapo’s request. At the time, Lydia Cacho, one of Mexico’s leading investigative journalists, told CJR’s Joel Simon of Penn’s efforts: “This is the version of the story authorized by El Chapo.”
Now, Reyes is part of a team at Univision working on the “unauthorized” Spanish-language biopic of the drug kingpin, based on years of investigative reporting by the network. The fictionalized series, which will air over three seasons beginning April 23 on Univision (and Netflix sometime later) with a season-one run of nine hour-long episodes, is called simply El Chapo. It’s the result of a new collaboration between Univision’s investigative-journalism unit and a creative team under the umbrella of Story House, a production unit that launched last year as part of the Fusion Media Group (owned by Univision Communications). A co-production with Netflix, this is the first scripted series released by the unit, which has previously stuck to documentaries.
The idea of bringing together fact and fiction is not new, but there is a renewed interest in depicting high profile news events in a more captivating way to educate and engage audiences. Some examples include last year’s wildly successful The People vs O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story and 2015’s Narcos based on the life of drug lord Pablo Escobar. While journalists consulted on these projects, it is unusual to see a media organization bringing together its fiction and news arms in an ongoing way. El Chapo is the first of a series of projects Reyes’s investigative team is working on with Story House. They’re mum on future topics for collaboration, and also on how much they’re spending on the projects.
“We’ve been talking about doing a series on El Chapo for quite a while because he’s a very iconic figure and obviously famous in Mexico, in Latin America, but…