Desi Arnaz, Freddie Prinze and I," says George Lopez, "are in a club that only has three members." It sounds arrogant, but he's right. Since 1951, the three comics have played lead roles in the only hit network sitcoms starring Latinos spaced roughly 30 years apart.
George Lopez, the show, is a success story rooted in a sad one. Lopez, 44, was abandoned by his parents as a boy and raised by his grandmother, who he says was belittling and incapable of showing affection. Yet he credits those early woes with inspiring his sometimes dark-edged humor. "If you grow up with a supportive family," he says, "you become a guy who gets laughs from everyday observations: laundry and airplanes and relationships. If you grow up emotionally neglected, you do a deeper type comedy."
The show, on ABC, has never been a smash hit, but it has had a solid run since its debut in 2002, holding its own against phenomenon American Idol. It will be followed next fall by Freddie, a Latino-family sitcom starring Freddie Prinze Jr. the son of Lopez's comedy idol whom Lopez helped persuade to do the show. Lopez, just recovered from a kidney transplant, has also taken care that his sitcom's crew includes Latinos and other minorities. "If you come to our stage," he says, "it looks like Costco." He says he hopes Latino kids watching him see as he did watching the elder Prinze's Chico and the Man that they can have "goals, not just dreams. What is a dream to Mexican kids, to white kids is a goal."