'Lopez' A Sleeper Hit

Going into this TV season's final stretch, Warner Bros.' George Lopez—a C-level sitcom that was tough to sell to stations—has turned into a sleeper hit.

During its run on ABC from 2002 to 2007, the family-oriented sitcom scored mediocre ratings and was shuffled all around the network's schedule.

“Expectations for the show were measured,” says Ken Werner, president of Warner Bros.' Domestic Television Distribution. “There was no particular compelling story you could tell that indicated to the marketplace that this show was going to be a significant success.”

But since its low-rated September premiere, Lopez has been on the rise. The show has improved 55% in households, jumping to a 3.4 live-plus-sameday household rating in the week ending March 30, according to Nielsen Media Research, from a 2.2 in the week ending Sept. 30.

Comparatively, among off-net comedies, only Warner Bros.' top-rated rookie, Two and a Half Men, has shown similar growth, improving 44% since September. Twentieth's Family Guy has gained 24% in the past six months, while the vets—CBS' Everybody Loves Raymond, Sony's Seinfeld and King of Queens, and Warner Bros.' Friends—have gained just 3% to 14% in the same time frame, with Raymond dropping 3%.

The success has come as a pleasant surprise both to Warner Bros. and to stations that have upgraded the show in many markets. In Los Angeles, George Lopez has moved from late-night to 11 p.m. on CBS' KCAL. Weigel Broadcasting did the same thing with the show on its CW affiliate, WCWW South Bend, Ind.

“In terms of return on investment, this show has done well for stations. It's the kind of show that keeps us healthy,” says Neal Sabin, Weigel Broadcasting's executive VP.

Because the show ran into sales resistance, George Lopez was a relative bargain for stations. They paid little cash for it, while securing 5½ minutes of local barter (with Warner Bros. retaining 1½ minutes, the standard barter arrangement for off-net sitcoms). Stations also had plenty of leeway in terms of what time periods they chose to air it. George Lopez has a concurrent cable run on Nick at Nite.

Station and syndication executives attribute the show's growth to strong promotion, which has led viewers to check out the show and then stick with it.

“The awareness of the George Lopez show wasn't high, but people were aware of George and liked him,” says Werner. “So we created a marketing campaign around him that was all about putting George in promotions that accentuated his humor and his likeability. We were strategic about where we spent our money, and we expected that George's popularity and identity would bring people to the show.”

Weigel Broadcasting—which has slotted the show in good time periods on its flagship Chicago station, WCIU, since it launched—promotes George Lopez and its block of male-led sitcoms as “U'z Guys,” a play on the station's moniker “The U.”

“We combined George Lopez with King of Queens and Bernie Mac. We think these three shows reflect the diversity of our market,” says Sabin.

That's working well for WCIU, with Lopez holding its own in key demographics in Chicago, particularly at 10:30 p.m. On April 7, the show came in second in the market among women 25-54, losing only to the evening news on ABC's powerhouse WLS.

While syndicators hope the popularity of this year's three off-net sitcom launches spell success for up-and-comers The Office, My Name is Earl and Tyler Perry's House of Payne, only time will tell.

Paige Albiniak

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for more than 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for The Global Entertainment Marketing Academy of Arts & Sciences (G.E.M.A.). She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997 - September 2002.