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ABC Tries To Hook Latino Viewers

By Hal Boedeker

April 6, 2002
Copyright © 2002 All Rights Reserved.

Seeing Freddie Prinze in Chico and the Man changed George López's life. At 12, he realized he wanted to be a comedian. His success in that arena so impressed actress Sandra Bullock that she's helping him duplicate another Prinze feat: starring in a sitcom.

Yet López, now 40, is slow to trumpet the Hispanic angles in ABC's George Lopez, which premiered March 27 and airs at 8:30 p.m. Wednesdays on WFTV-Channel 9.

"I'm just an American guy who happens to be of Mexican descent," he recently told TV critics. "So we're just a family like any other family. We don't really rely heavily on that.

"As a matter of fact, when we started to read actors, we told [them] that we didn't want to use an accent. They were kind of confused because everything they do, they're asked to have accents. And this was just your regular speaking voice. I know people will approach it from the Latino angle. Hopefully, they'll see this is just a family with great tans."

Despite that self-deprecation, López's show is unusual, said Tim Brooks, co-author of The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows. "Television has not been kind to Hispanics," he said. "I suspect the recent growth of the Hispanic audience might open some eyes in that direction."

Numerous series, such as L.A. Law and Miami Vice, featured Hispanics prominently. But Brooks noted that broadcasting has offered few series with Hispanic leads, such as On the Rocks, a 1975-76 comedy set in a prison, and House of Buggin,' a 1995 variety series with John Leguizamo.

"Showtime has Resurrection Blvd., a major Hispanic program, but on broadcast television, Chico and the Man is probably the only one that has become a major hit," Brooks said.

He suggested several reasons why broadcasting has overlooked the Hispanic market: Nielsen didn't provide a lot of information about Hispanic viewers, so television executives have been slow to recognize the market.

Unlike African-American viewers, who have provided a guaranteed audience for series with black stars, Hispanics have not shown the same desire to watch their own. "Younger Hispanics will tell you they just don't watch Univisión, they'd rather watch English-speaking stars," Brooks said.

In typical fashion, López makes light of the weak history. "Thanks God for Erik Estrada," he said, referring to the CHiPs star. "I don't know if I would have made it there in the late '70s."

George Lopez is a family comedy with a flip but loving tone like the series preceding it, Damon Wayans' My Wife and Kids. George and his wife, Angie (Constance Marie), have two children, Carmen (Masiela Lusha) and Max (Luis Armand García). George's overbearing mother, Benny (Belita Moreno), makes a formidable foil and works in the airplane parts factory that her son manages.

Executive producer Bruce Helford, who co-created The Drew Carey Show, said that Bullock urged him to see López's act. She serves as an executive producer on the sitcom and appears as an accident-prone factory worker in the third episode airing April 10.

"George's act truly is a vision of a family," Helford said. The show draws on López's jokes from his standup routine and bases characters on his relatives.

"But this is not a show meant to represent all Latino people," Helford added. "No black show represents all black people or white show represents all white people. But this is going to be a different show. These are stories and attitudes and things that you really haven't seen on prime-time American TV in any major way."

López said he's thrilled that ABC is offering his sitcom. "I really believe that it's ABC's answer to NBC buying Telemundo," he said. "It's less expensive and accomplishes the same goal."

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