New George Lopez talk show overplays race angle
By Barry Garron
LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - TBS made TV history on Monday with the premiere of "Lopez Tonight," a late-night talkfest with a Chicano host. And just in case you didn't realize it, George Lopez hit you over the head with that information roughly every 90 seconds.
The new nightly show recognizes the changing demos of the U.S. population, a point Lopez punctuated with opening night guests Eva Longoria Parker, NBA star Kobe Bryant and music legend Carlos Santana (along with a near-cameo appearance by Ellen DeGeneres in bed clothes).
Ethnicity is the be all and end all in most of Lopez's standup material -- and the bulk of Monday night's opening monologue -- but it threatens to choke the life out of his talk show. It's one thing to have a diverse guest list and quite another to hail every guest appearance as a testimonial to the concept.
"This is what America looks like," he proclaimed, vowing he will be "making late night different and bringing change to late night TV." While the goal in itself is commendable, for the show to succeed it will need to do more than proclaim itself a Rainbow Coalition.
In Monday's premiere, simultaneously carried on TBS, TNT and truTV, the show managed to celebrate ethnicity and eke laughter out of offensive stereotypes. Just before introducing Parker, Lopez brought up two members of the audience. Following a video clip of a person-on-the-street interview, each one had to guess how the person on tape would answer a question.
Would the black guy say he's been to jail? Would the young Filipina acknowledge giving a happy ending? Would the Asian man own up to having a small penis? Would the toothless white guy admit to using the "N" word? Sure seemed like an odd way of "bringing change to late night TV."
Facing TV critics this summer, Lopez brushed aside questions about his interview skills. He's been a talk show guest often enough to know how it works, he said. Uh, not so fast.
Interviews with both Parker and Bryant were mostly testimony to the hard work of producers who did the pre-interviews. Following their notes, Lopez jumped from one talking point to the next, with no transitions and in no discernible order. From start to finish, Lopez appeared to never ask a question for which he didn't already know the answer.
Segment producers were not the hardest working members of the crew, though. That honor went to the warm-up person who inflated the enthusiasm and laughter to levels not usually seen outside of "The Price Is Right."
"You have chairs for these people?" DeGeneres asked, pointing to audience members who were asked to stand around the stage. Using dancing girls, supersized white chairs and multicolor lighting, "Lopez Tonight" tries to create a party atmosphere. To a degree, through the magic of television, the festive vibes break through the ether. The idea is to create a party atmosphere that spills out into your own family room. The enthusiasm is apparent but so too, is the need for some serious party planning.
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