How George the Lopez Show took over Nick at Nite

The Nick at Nite programming block has existed on Nickelodeon since 1985. It’s known for introducing viewers to new sitcoms as well as older ones through reruns. Shows such as “Family Matters,” “The Nanny” and “Full House” found a new audience in kids and teens who weren’t born while the shows were on air. In the 2000s, the programming block continued to add classic shows to its lineup. One of these shows was “George Lopez,” which is arguably the most popular show that ever aired on Nick at Nite.

The show follows the life of a fictional version of comedian George Lopez and his family in Los Angeles. The show’s main characters were his son, Max; his daughter, Carmen; his wife, Angie; and his mother, Benny. The Lopez family is a mix of Cuban and Mexican heritage. Angie’s father, Victor Palmero, is a Cuban immigrant, who came to the United States during the reign of Fidel Castro. George’s parents were both born in the United States but have Hispanic ancestry that likely originates in Mexico. 

The reason this show is packed with Latino American diversity is actually in response to the lack of it on television at the time. In the early 2000s, Sandra Bullock noticed a lack of representation for Latinos and wanted to create a television show to fix this. She saw Lopez perform standup and approached him with a pitch for what would later become the show, “George Lopez.”

However, networks were not immediately receptive to the idea of a Latino version of “The Cosby Show.” Bullock pitched the show to all of the major networks but, according to her, they didn’t know what to do with it.” Thanks to Bruce Helford, “The Drew Carey Show” creator and “Roseanne” writer, the show ended up airing on ABC with Helford becoming a co-creator and an executive producer. 

The “George Lopez” show first premiered in April 2002 and lasted for six seasons. A few days after the last season aired in May 2007, the show was canceled by ABC after one executive told Lopez that the network would lose money should the show be renewed. Lopez believed part of the reason for the show’s cancellation was the fact that it was produced by Warner Bros. Television and not ABC Studios.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Lopez mentioned that despite the show having changed time slots multiple times, it still had better ratings than newer shows like “Notes from the Underbelly” and “The Knights of Prosperity.” He also dismissed their decision to pick up “Cavemen,” the infamous sitcom based on the Geico cavemen commercials, and not his show: “So a Chicano can’t be on TV, but a caveman can?”

A few months after it ended, “George Lopez” began airing on Nick at Nite in September 2007. While on Nick at Nite, it managed to become the programming block’s highest-rated program at the time. These high ratings were justified, as the show did a lot of things well. For starters, it was a great comedy. A big problem with comedy is that it can age poorly, due to becoming reliant on offensive jokes or pop culture references. I’m sure people are watching the “Starvin Marvin” episode of “South Park” for the first time wondering who Sally Struthers is.

The strength of “George Lopez” was that it could appeal to its target audience of Latinos while also appealing to other audiences. Near the beginning of the first episode, George says that his kids don’t need to learn how to swim because they were already in America. A joke like this in any other show would come off as offensive and racist. Because it’s being said on a show about Latino characters, the joke is self-deprecating. 

Speaking of racism, one of the most memorable and relevant episodes of the show is “George Can’t Let Sleeping Mexicans Lie.” As the title implies, George and his family take issue with a neighbor’s offensive lawn decoration of a sleeping Mexican. The episode does a great job of depicting casual and overt racism. Despite the seriousness of its plot, it still manages to be the show’s funniest episode. I’ve cried laughing at it because, as a black person, its jokes about racist white people are so relatable. The joke where George says he should put up a statue of a white person accusing people of crimes they didn’t commit is my highlight of the episode. An interesting fact about this episode is that it takes place during season six and is one of the show’s last four episodes. This only makes ABC’s decision to cancel even more foolish, if you ask me.

Because of episodes like this one and several others, “George Lopez” managed to become extremely popular when it entered syndication and began airing on Nick at Nite in 2007. According to Next TV, the show went from a rating of 2.2 in September 2007 to 3.4 by the end of March 2008, improving by 55% in households. This was thanks in part to a marketing campaign for the show based around Lopez himself. Because of its syndication, an entire generation of kids became fans of the show. A lot of kids who grew up in the early 2000s fondly remember changing channels and knowing that they had come across an episode of the show because they heard its theme song “Low Rider” by War, a song Lopez once called the “Chicano National Anthem.” Even though “George Lopez” left Nick at Night after 13 years, it still airs in syndication on TBS. It’s also available to watch on Peacock.

With reruns still airing and its presence on a streaming service, “George Lopez” could become beloved by yet another generation of kids.

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