“The George Lopez Show’s” trailblazing ways go far beyond its place as the most successful Latino-led sitcom since “I Love Lucy.” The long-running show also is one of the last remnants of a dying sitcom breed: family-centered laffers.
What’s more, “Lopez” reps another fading trend in half-hour comedies: series that revolve around standup comedians.
Family comedies, of course, have been around since the dawn of television, but they experienced a particular resurgence in the years following “The Cosby Show.” Later on, those families got a bit more realistic, thanks to the tough love found in “Roseanne” and “Malcolm in the Middle.”
“To do a nuclear family show, if you do it superficially it can only last for so long,” says “Lopez” exec producer Bruce Helford. “With George, we tried to make the show as relatable as possible.”
With fewer families actually watching TV together, the number of shows about a nuclear family has plummeted and can now be counted on one hand.
The decline hasn’t been helped by the rise in reality TV, which has taken away loads of young viewers. That’s particularly the case with “American Idol,” which has frequently aired opposite “Lopez.”
“It’s amazing. ‘Idol’ grows every week,” Lopez says. “It’s made me unafraid of a bad ratings week. If someone tells me they’ve had a bad week, I say, ‘Talk to me when you’ve had 10 bad weeks.’ ”
Warner Bros. TV prexy Peter Roth notes “Lopez” is one of the few traditional, multicamera half-hours still on the air.
“It’s an updated version of a domestic family sitcom but dares to be different,” he says.
In the spirit of classics like “Roseanne” — of which “George Lopez’s” Helford is an alum — Lopez has mined his family and private life to bring some deeply personal stories to the small screen.
“This was a guy who’s trying to be a father and a husband but had no role models of his own growing up,” Helford says. “When he and I and (fellow exec producer) Robert Borden talked about it, it became a natural take for the show.”
In real life, Lopez and his wife are thinking about adopting a kid, just as Lopez’s character faces the possibility of having another child.
“The gimmick of the show is my life, the stories are my life,” Lopez says. “I don’t think people want to watch something that rings false. ‘Family Ties’ couldn’t survive these days. Back then we were more innocent.”
As for being one of the last standup comedians with his own show, Lopez marvels at how the sitcom landscape has changed. Not too long ago, the half-hour form was dominated by talent such as Jerry Seinfeld, Drew Carey, Roseanne, Tim Allen and Brett Butler.
But slowly as those shows disappeared — Ray Romano’s “Everybody Loves Raymond” the most recent example — they’ve been replaced by ensemble laffers, or single-camera shows.
“They’re not giving standups a shot anymore,” Lopez says. “It’s like I’m now the world champ out there.”
That became especially true toward the end of the 1990s, as the networks and studios started rushing into development shows centered on young, up-and-coming comics, who perhaps hadn’t paid their dues. Most of those shows quickly failed, and the nets stepped back from comic-led projects.
“They started grabbing guys way too quickly,” Helford says. “And then came the trend toward single-camera, which is tough for a comic with minimal acting experience.”
ABC Entertainment prexy Steve McPherson says Lopez’s experience as a well-traveled standup comedian helped the show quickly find its legs.
“I don’t think it’s an accident that someone like George Lopez, who spent so much time honing his craft and developing his point of view, has succeeded,” McPherson says. “You go back to the Tim Allens, Roseannes and Brett Butlers of the world — these were people who spent years on the road, honing that craft in a lot of elements.”