A TV Kid Makes Good on Cable

Few television personalities are as versatile as George Lopez. For nearly two decades, the comedian-actor has starred in numerous television stand-up comedy specials, movies and series — as well as a late-night cable talk show. Lopez, who currently stars in TV Land’s original comedy series Lopez, spoke with Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead about his childhood love for cable TV, as well as adapting to the TV industry’s ever changing technological landscape. Edited highlights follow.

MCN:Growing up were you a big television viewer?

George Lopez: Listen, I’m an only child and I was kinda like a shut-in. So, the day that I got cable, I was living with my grandmother. Man, that day changed my life. From sports to the news, it was great. It must have been like when people heard radio for the first time. Before that you had four or five channels that would show Gilligan’s Island or maybe Gomer Pyle. Then when cable came, man, it exploded everything.

MCN:So much has changed since the early cable days. Have you kept up with the all the new distribution platforms?

GL: Now when you buy a TV, it comes with the apps and everything, and there’s a DVR in my cable. And to think that it keeps reinventing itself almost daily. They’re not really so wrapped up in ratings and numbers and demographics and minute-by-minute viewership. In network, there’s a lot more constriction than in cable.

MCN:Has TV Land given you more creative freedom forLopezthan you had when you didThe George Lopez Showon ABC?

GL: TV Land, with the new show Lopez, is probably the first place that allowed me to be creative and didn’t have negative comments or unsupportive things to say, not during the first episode or the 12th. Like, when I went to TV Land, [The] Jim Gaffigan [Show] was premiering last year, and they have Younger, Teachers, Impastor; they’ve got good shows. They still honor a little bit of the history with the Icon Awards, but they allow me to do a show that I couldn’t do at ABC. They are the best place I’ve ever been to create.

MCN:The landscape is changing so much in terms of what we see and how we watch it, particularly with the emergence of video on the Web. From your perspective, are we going in the right direction, or is technology actually hurting the entertainment business?

GL: I was telling Arsenio [Hall] that we came up in a time when if you wanted to get good, you had to leave the house. And now, you don’t really have to leave the house to get a following or to be known. You never have to leave your house. In a way it’s very impersonal. So it used to be cool to say, ‘I saw Bruce Springsteen’s last performance at the Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles.’ But now somebody can say, ‘Oh yeah, I downloaded the concert on YouTube.’ So that’s not a good direction, I would say.

MCN:At the same time though, some people say this is the Golden Age of Content, in that there are so many ways of getting content distributed. Do you see yourself taking advantage of the full landscape of distribution opportunities that digital affords you?

GL: Yeah, no question about that. But also I think that I’m fortunate enough to have a built-in audience already. I would not want to be an unknown trying to get a show off the ground. My first show’s still on TV from 2002, so I would not want to be a young comedian trying to get a show off the ground who does not have an audience. It seems like the whole weight of the Internet, cable and everything would be on you, because of the amount of options that you have to compete with.

MCN:WhenThe George Lopez Showcame out in the early 2000s, there were very few people of color starring in major shows. Have we made significant progress, or is there still progress to be made?

GL: Well, there’s still progress to be made in everything, but I think that it’s much more — you know, Jane the Virgin and Empire and shows like that. What we need to do is not entirely have a black show, but have a show that looks like the country looks. Like in this show, there’s people of all races in it because when I do my shows, I like them to look the way the world looks. Not like a Woody Allen movie or not like a show that’s entirely black. One of the things growing up, you would see a McDonald’s commercial, and [there] would be a white McDonald’s commercial, and [there] would be a black McDonald’s commercial, and then there’d be a commercial in Spanish that had all Latinos. And when you go to Mc- Donald’s, everybody’s eating at the same place at the same time. So definitely, when I did my shows, I had an eye to make [them] look as inclusive as the world is.

MCN:In terms of what you want to do going forward — I was reading a story where you may have some political aspirations down the line?

GL: I think maybe in Season 3 I run for mayor on the show. And then we spin off that, I actually do run for mayor. Because it’s based kind of like a Curb Your Enthusiasm, so if you floated it out there I think you would get a good feel of what the possibility would be. Arnold Schwarzenegger ran for governor — no political experience. Donald Trump is running for president — no political experience. Ronald Reagan became president — was an actor. So maybe it’s time.

MCN:What do you make of this whole political season?

GL: Well it’s not very political anymore, if you have a guy that has not revealed any plan other than just to divide people … and ‘my wife’s prettier than your wife’ thing. There’s no place in politics [for that]. Your wife’s a mail-order bride; you picked the right page. So, I’d like it to go back to the issues. The president was never un-presidential. Anybody that was running for president, you wanted them to look and sound like they could be president, not that they were doing it on a whim. It’s not even anywhere near November, and I don’t think we’ve seen the craziest things that are gonna happen yet.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.