Cathy's World: Prole Night on ABC

By CATHERINE SEIPP  |  April 3, 2002 at 10:11 AM
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LOS ANGELES, April 3 (UPI) -- How bad are most of the new midseason shows this year? So bad that the utterly conventional "George Lopez," whose premiere last week on ABC was only mildly amusing, is so far the most enjoyable, in a veg-out sort of way.

One of the worst is "Wednesday 9:30 (8:30 Central)," which also premiered last week on ABC. Did you know that TV executives are conniving and foul-mouthed? Do you find the very idea wackily hilarious?

Then "Wednesday," a dreadfully smug office comedy about the TV business, may strike you as hilarious. In which case you'd better hurry up and catch it before it's cancelled, which seems almost certain.

Inside-baseball shows like "Wednesday" don't have a happy history on network TV. "The Amazing Teddy Z," which covered the same territory less inanely, was quickly yanked 15 years ago.

"Wednesday's title alone pretty much guarantees the network can't trying moving it any place but Wednesday at 9:30 if it doesn't do well there. Last week it didn't, and you get the impression no one really cares.

Stupid shows can and do come from smart people, who are quite willing to pull out bottom-of-the-drawer stuff for another "created by" credit. "Wednesday" is the brainchild of Peter Tolan, who certainly can do better. He's a "Larry Sanders" veteran and co-creator of "The Job."

"This is a show I wrote some years ago," Tolan said of "Wednesday" at the ABC press conference, "and it sort of rose from the grave." Time to put a stake through its heart and send it back.

Anyway, "George Lopez," an almost entirely derivative family comedy, revolves around the usual embarrassing family situations. Former radio host and standup comic Lopez plays an airplane parts factory worker suddenly promoted to plant manager. He has a bossy mom, a feisty but understanding wife, an easily embarrassed teenaged daughter.

Some of the lines are funny, and Lopez's broad, bug-eyed delivery grows on you.

"You're my little girl," he says to his daughter, who wants to start shaving her legs. "Can't you just let the hair grow and when you get older we'll take you to the woods and release you?"

Still, I must be getting old, because since when do easily embarrassed teenaged daughters discuss personal grooming details with their dads?

Maybe around the same time women began addressing each other as "dude," which I still find rather startling.

Also, by crikey, I can remember a time with the standard comic situation in sitcoms did not revolve around passing gas.

"Oh, man, why did I have all that coffee and chili dogs today?" the Lopez character repeatedly says, threatening to clear the room when he doesn't get his own way.

Well, I suppose at least this is something new. Although maybe that's what Ralph Kramden really meant when he yelled, "You're going to the moon, Alice!"

Like "The Honeymooners," "George Lopez" is unapologetically downmarket. Showrunner Bruce Helford, whose credits include "Roseanne" and "The Drew Carey Show," is one of the busiest men in TV and has a strong track record creating comedies about the funny old working class.

"George Lopez" may benefit by its timeslot smack in the middle of what's shaping up as prole night on ABC.

The premiere, sandwiched between the Damon Wayans vehicle "My Wife and Kids" and "The Drew Carey Show" got respectable ratings, and works well as a companion piece to "My Wife," about a blue collar black guy, and "Carey," about a blue collar white guy.

Lopez, a standup comic and former radio host, is a blue collar Latino guy and his new show is based on his own background. The fictional Lopez works at a Van Nuys airplane parts factory with his bossy mother named Benny; the real Lopez worked at a Van Nuys airplane parts factory (Sperry Aviation, to be exact) with his bossy grandmother named Benny.

"She got me the job in the early '80s," Lopez recalled at the ABC press conference. "I remember as a seven-year-old, always saying, 'I want to work there.' When you're 21 and you realize it's minimum wage, it doesn't seem so exciting."

His real grandmother, Lopez said, was absolutely as overbearing as his mother is in the show.

"When I wanted to have a party at Chuck E. Cheese, my grandmother actually said to me, 'If you want to see a mouse, I'll pull out the refrigerator.'"

Although Lopez is an only child, there aren't any pictures of him as a baby. When he asked his grandmother about this, she responded, "Because you were always crying. Who wants to take a picture of a baby who is always crying?"

"I let her read the script, which is pretty tough on her," he added. "And she said, 'Oh, my God, George, I love it.' She didn't see the toughness. She is so used to it, that she didn't see anything wrong with it. 'I hope they make her with black hair,' that's all she said. She didn't want to have gray hair in it."

Unlike so many new sitcoms, "George Lopez" eschews the trendy new single-camera technique for the old-fashioned multiple-camera setup in front of a live and laughing studio audience.

"As I'm always proud to say on 'The Drew Carey Show,' usually they need to borrow our laughs for the other shows," said Helford. "So we will have a live audience there. We like the excitement of that."

"And we will get a group of Latinos together to laugh into the microphones," added Lopez, "because we throw in a couple of 'hoo-hooies,' which you don't hear in network TV."

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