In July 2002, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Hispanics for the first time surpassed African-Americans as the largest minority community in the U.S., with a population of 38.8 million.
Perhaps coincidentally, that same year saw the launch of the ABC hit comedy “George Lopez,” which has now reached 100 episodes.
“I think the 2000 census really highlighted the explosion of Hispanics in this country,” says Brad Adgate, Horizon Media’s director of research. “Obviously you have Telemundo, Univision, Telefutura and Galavision. You’re starting to see a lot of cable networks come out with a Spanish-language version, like ESPN Deportes or Fox Sports en Espanol, or Discovery and CNN and HBO captioned for Spanish-speaking audiences.”
Certainly the numbers are compelling from an advertising perspective. Census estimates project the number of Hispanics in the U.S. will triple by 2050 to 103 million, or a quarter of the nation’s population. Currently, one in five U.S. teenagers is Hispanic, and due to a higher birth rate, that population is expected to grow 62% by 2020, or six times faster than the general population. In addition, one-third of all U.S. Hispanics are under the age of 18.
“The median age is about 26, which is kind of the sweet spot for a lot of advertisers who are obsessed with reaching young folks,” says Adgate.
But like the Latin funk band War, whose 1975 hit “Low Rider” serves as his theme song, Lopez is the product of far more than just a core Latino audience. Just as War was the brainchild of mid-’60s British rocker Eric Burdon (of Animals fame) looking to capitalize on a growing ethnic awareness, so was “George Lopez” launched at the behest of Sandra Bullock, who saw a dearth of Hispanic stars on network television and scoured the comedy clubs until she found a likely prospect in the affable, talented G.Lo.
“Drew Carey” co-creator Bruce Helford produces the series through his Mohawk Prods. (as he does the Hispanic-themed “Freddie,” starring Freddie Prinze Jr., which follows “Lopez” on Wednesdays at 8:30).
“We knew George would bring in a Hispanic audience,” says Michael Benson, senior VP of marketing for ABC. “We played around a little bit with that. I remember one of the first ads we had said, ‘He’s as American as apple pie and nachos.’ But while we wanted to play around with it, we didn’t want the audience to feel like it’s exclusionary at all. We look at George as a funny dad, and while he brings the Hispanic culture into the show, it really is a show about any family in America.”
A consistent performer in the middle of the ratings pack, “George Lopez” took a noticeable dip when it was moved from Tuesday to Fridays as part of ABC’s TGIF comedy block revival, before being relocated to its current Wednesday berth. (Its household share is currently a 4.9, or 7.4 million viewers, down from a 5.1 last year.)
ABC is up 16% from last year in adults 18-49, the highest increase in that market share in 25 years, due almost exclusively to the breakout successes of “Desperate Housewives” (arguably an Anglicized telenovela), “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Lost,” to which “George Lopez” and “Freddie” provide a lead-in.
The network enjoys a marginal advantage among the six leading English-speaking networks in the key adult demographic with a Hispanic audience (367,000 viewers to Fox’s 364,000), although Fox has more overall Hispanic viewers (703,000 to 642,000).
And “George Lopez” consistently places in the top 10 shows among Hispanic adults, up 4% among males and 8% among females 18-49 over last year, including a considerable 19% boost among females 25-54.
But according to the Nielsen NHTI sample of 1,000 Spanish-speaking homes, Hispanics only account for 13% of the overall “George Lopez” audience, even if that number is more than twice the percentage of ABC’s next largest Hispanic-reaching hit, “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” (5%).
Even with a large complement of Hispanic viewers, the Hispanic audience still composes only slightly more than one-eighth of all “George Lopez” viewers.
“For us, it’s really about trying to reflect the diversity in the country, but contained within shows that are accessible to everyone,” says Benson. “We look at the Univisions and Telemundos of the world as competition. We’re always trying to go as broad as we can.”
Maybe that’s why they call it broadcasting.