George Lopez, the man, was third in a short lineage of Hispanic performers to star in a mainstream television show. He has impressive company. Only Desi Arnaz and Freddie Prinze have achieved the same. As Freddie Prinze Jr. has stated, “Desi unlocked the door, my dad opened it and George kicked it down.” Freddie Prinze Jr. was the fourth on this list - unfortunately, his show was cancelled after only one season.
On May 15th, ABC announced that it will be closing the door of its groundbreaking program “George Lopez”. Ironically, it is ABC that will continue to carry the torch of depicting Latinos in the mainstream media with its hit show “Ugly Betty”, the English language transplant of the popular Colombian telenovela “Yo soy Betty, La Fea”, starring the Honduran-American actress America Ferrera.
Both programs, however, have been the exception to the rule, in a world where Hispanics in entertainment continue to be under-represented. For instance, studies measuring the percentages of prime-time Hispanic characters on network television consistently show Latino actors at about six or seven percent of the total, in marked contrast to the fact that Hispanics make up fifteen percent of the population. When you look at characters in leading roles, the numbers dwindle much further.
Despite the blatant absence of a viable Latino presence on mainstream television, research shows that U.S. born Hispanics are clamoring to see more of themselves represented in the media landscape-on television as in the real world. More so than any show in recent history, “George Lopez” was a shining example of a program that delivered on this unmet desire. Qualitative research that we have conducted has shown that young U.S. born Hispanics, Mexican or not, totally connect with Lopez - they get his humor, they identify with his persona and they admire him as someone who has made it, despite all the obstacles.
The NGLC study (www.NGLC.net) we released this week showed that among New Generation Latinos, “George Lopez” was the most popular Hispanic television show. In New American Dimensions' Made in America study among younger U.S. born and Generation 1.5 Hispanics, “George Lopez” was among the top five programs viewed across all age segments and across all generations.
The apparent lack of hullabaloo about the George Lopez show's cancellation, at least until now, seems to be in marked contrast to the protestations about Ken Burns' 14-hour documentary “The War,” which is scheduled to premier on PBS in September. Among the more than 40 men and women interviewed for the documentary, not a single one was Latino, and both Burns and the network received a heated reaction from Hispanic activists headed by the Defend the Honor Campaign which tried to force them to include a Hispanic perspective. Burns and PBS at first relented, then gave in a little, agreeing to add some Hispanic interviews, but without having to re-edit. The pressure from Hispanic groups continued, and in a press release this week, Burns now agrees that Hispanics will be “incorporated in a way consistent with the film's focus.” The lesson from the Burns documentary is that the voices of the U.S.'s 44 million Hispanics will be told.
The bigger question that many Latinos, including George Lopez himself, are now pondering is whether his show was “unceremoniously” cancelled or not. Certainly both qualitative and quantitative research that we've conducted points to the fact that “George Lopez” indeed had a loyal Latino fan base that related to the show on multiple levels. In the world of television, however, shows are typically cancelled for one reason…money. Given the proven appeal of “George Lopez” with the Latino population, the largest ethnic group in America, what then led to its downfall? Well, here's what we do know: 1. the show had 4 different time slots during its 5-year run; 2. it was often put up against media juggernaut, “American Idol”; 3. it was not produced or owned by ABC, who allegedly has kept their fully-owned shows on-air in spite of poorer ratings. So it may have gotten an unfair deal.
Unlike a PBS documentary, “George Lopez” was a network TV program whose goal was to generate revenue. Based on our research with Hispanics, however, it represented a whole lot more. Is ABC being short sighted by canceling the one show that for so many Hispanics was a symbol of their arrival into the American mainstream? Just a guess, but George Lopez - and probably millions of other yet unheard Hispanics -- probably have a strong opinion on the subject.
David Morse - President & CEO, New American Dimensions
David Chitel - Chairman & Founder, New Generation Latino Consortium