Keeping it Real

Valerie Barreiro has spent her entire life dealing with change and learning to adapt—two skills that serve her well in her position as vice president of legal affairs for NBCUniversal (NBCU) Television Group, where she works on unscripted (or reality) shows. Amid all the glitz of the television industry, there is also a lot of responsibility. Barreiro’s diversified background in both the private and public sector prior to joining NBCU in 2006, along with a flexible, “ready-for-anything” attitude, helped arm her with the well-rounded experience needed for this demanding, fast-paced, and ever-changing position. We spoke to Barreiro to get a behind-the-scenes peek at the legal world of reality television.

“The creative world is very dynamic and you can’t ask your client to slow down and wait for you. You have to be able to dive in, ask the crucial questions, and make the right decisions,” says Valerie Barreiro, VP of legal affairs at NBCUniversal Television Group. PHOTO: DAVID MICHAEL

You have a very unique position in the legal field. Describe what you do. 
I currently work with creative executives, producers, business affairs, press and publicity, safety, and risk management to ensure that a TV show is produced in a way that is consistent with our policies and guidelines. I review a lot of contracts, including agreements with the participants and indemnity agreements; if it’s a competition, I review the rules. We vet episodes to ensure they’re legally compliant and make sure there are no legal surprises. We have shows that are produced abroad so we have to understand some of the laws in other countries. When a show is greenlit, it can have a short production cycle and we have to get up to speed with the laws of a particular country very quickly.

What part of your background do you think best suited you for this position? 
The fact that I speak Spanish fluently has helped me throughout my entire career. I started here at Telemundo. I had to review scripts and advise reporters and producers on news-gathering issues. Also, my father was a banker and we moved around a lot, switching countries every three years until I went to college, from Argentina to Panama to the United States. That taught me to switch gears and get up to speed quickly to determine what clients need, to get along with a wide variety of people, and to effectively communicate with people in different walks of life. That’s been helpful in television because the best-laid plans change. Also, the creative world is very dynamic and you can’t ask your client to slow down and wait for you. You have to be able to dive in, ask the crucial questions, and make the right decisions.

What challenges have you faced in your career and how have you overcome them? 
I think because I changed careers—city attorney, private lawyer, unscripted lawyer—I embrace change. But, change means that you’re always climbing up that learning curve, and that’s a challenge. It means you have to put in more time and be more dedicated, but it is so much more rewarding. It would have been easy for me to stay in one position, but I don’t think I would be as fulfilled as I am today, and because of being so well rounded, I think I do a better job for my client.

How would you describe your management style or strategy? 
I’m a big fan of checklists, because when you are dealing with time-sensitive matters, critical-safety issues, and tight deadlines, sometimes the urgent matters come to the surface and other things can be overlooked. So, I find that lists really help prevent things from falling through the cracks when everything is moving quickly. Time is also money. When you’re in production, you don’t want to have to shut down for a day to resolve a legal issue.

Does NBCU have a Latino mentoring program? 
Yes, we have Unidos, which means being together [in Spanish]. We have mentoring opportunities and events. We also mentor junior lawyers when they come through the internship program in our department. We have a diversity council that seeks to address the needs of all affinity groups. NBCU is very focused on retaining our top talent, especially global talent.

Do you do any volunteering?
I volunteer with the Alliance for Children’s Rights, which provides legal service and advocacy work for impoverished children in LA county. My favorite thing is their National Adoption Day for kids in foster care. There’s such a backlog in processing the paperwork needed to finalize their adoptions and remove them from the foster-care system. So, the Alliance helps to bring together judges and volunteer lawyers and court staff on a designated day when court is in session for these adoption days and helps fill out and process the paperwork. All the kids get a teddy bear. It’s an amazing ceremony and it gives them so much joy.