[Albert R. Cutie]' wasn't always sure about accepting a role in the media. He was a rookie parish priest in 1998 when Telemundo launched a nationwide talent hunt for a new program that would eventually become the Padre Alberto show. Nely Gala'n, the executive who conceived the idea, thought, What is a talk show but a secular version of Confession? And who better to host it, especially for a Hispanic audience, than a priest? Producers interviewed 500 Spanish- speaking clerics before selecting Cutie', but he wasn't sold on the idea at first.
On Sept. 27, 1998, the Padre Alberto show faced off against Cristina, the reigning talk show queen on a rival channel. The format and themes were familiar - truculent teens, troubled spouses, conjoined twins, infidelity, incest - except the host of Padre Alberto wore a clerical suit and led the audience in prayer before the cameras rolled. Aided by psychologists and other experts, Cutie' encouraged reconciliation, not rage. There was no chair-throwing, and Cutie' tried to avoid preaching. "You want to hear me preach," he says, "come to Mass."
At 1:13 p.m., Cutie' pulls into the Radio Paz parking lot. Inside the chilly studio, a chalice, cruets, missal and multiline phone await along with the day's congregation: five station workers, who soon will be joined by callers with prayer requests. Cutie' dons a white linen alb and scarlet stole. He puts on a headset, takes a seat in front of a blue Radio Paz microphone and celebrates La Santa Misa, alternating the familiar rhythms of Mass by hitting a phone button and answering, "Intencions por favor."