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COVER STORY : Latinos on TV: From Lucy . . . to Leguizamo

March 05, 1995

"I Love Lucy" (CBS, 1951-57)--This classic series presented the first important Latino character to appear on network TV. Desi Arnaz, above, produced and starred with real-life wife Lucille Ball in this comedy about Cuban bandleader Ricky Ricardo and his wife, Lucy. Ricky often fired off a torrent of Spanish when he was upset, while Lucy often made fun of his accent.

"The Bill Dana Show" (NBC, 1963-65)--White comedian Bill Dana played Jose Jimenez, a bellhop at a luxury hotel. Jimenez was described as "a cross between Chaplin and Cantinflas, an immigrant in search of the American Dream." Latino activists roundly criticized the character, calling him stereotypical and offensive.

"The Flying Nun" (ABC, 1967-70)--Alejandro Rey co-starred as playboy Carlos Ramirez in this comedy about flying Sister Bertrille (Sally Field) that was set in a fictional hilltop convent near San Juan, Puerto Rico.

"The High Chaparral" (NBC, 1967-71)--This Western revolved around a white family that lived in Arizona during the 1870s alongside a Mexican family. The series starred Leif Erickson, Cameron Mitchell, Linda Cristal, Henry Darrow and Frank Silvera.

"Chico and the Man" (NBC, 1974-78)--This series starred young Puerto Rican comedian Freddie Prinze, above, with Jack Albertson. Prinze played a Mexican American mechanic working in a garage run by a bitter bigot played by Albertson. Latino groups criticized Prinze's cartoonish portrayal, but audiences embraced him. After the 22-year-old committed suicide in 1977, the show continued with a youngster (Gabriel Melgar) in his place.

"CHiPs" (NBC, 1977-83)--Erik Estrada, left, became a sex symbol as Frank (Ponch) Poncherello in this drama about two young California Highway Patrol officers.

"Fantasy Island" (ABC, 1978-1984)--Ricardo Montalban played the mysterious and elegant Mr. Roarke in the popular anthology drama series, in which Roarke grants the wishes of visitors to his island paradise.

"Hill Street Blues" (NBC, 1981-87)--The members of the police force in this drama included Lt. Ray Calletano, played by Rene Enriquez, above, with Veronica Hamel. One episode had Calletano dealing with discrimination when he discovers he is the only Latino at a dinner honoring him.

"Miami Vice" (NBC, 1984-89)--Edward James Olmos, right, played the solemn, straight-ahead Lt. Martin Castillo, who was the rock of the police force in this drama set in Miami, which starred Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas.

"a.k.a. Pablo" (ABC, 1984)--Paul Rodriguez starred as a struggling Latino comic who gets a chance to star in his own series. Although his 13-member family is thrilled, his more traditional father (Hector Elizondo) is less than pleased. The show lasted only a few weeks and sparked mixed reactions in the Latino community about some of its images.

"L.A. Law" (NBC, 1986-94)--Jimmy Smits first became a star in this series about a high-powered law office. He played attorney Victor Sifuentes, a partner in the firm, and several story lines revolved around his cases and romantic involvements. Smits left the series in 1991 to pursue other roles.

"Shannon's Deal" (NBC, 1990-91)--Elizabeth Pena, left, played secretary Lucy Acosta to a struggling Philadelphia lawyer played by Jamey Sheridan, right.

"Frannie's Turn" (CBS, 1992)--Miriam Margolyes and Tomas Milian starred in this short-lived comedy about a middle-aged woman struggling to find her own identity and her Cuban-born husband.

"The Golden Palace" (CBS, 1992-93)--This continuation of "The Golden Girls" co-starred Cheech Marin as chef Chuy Castillos at the Golden Palace Hotel run by Betty White, Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty.

"NYPD Blue" (ABC, 1993- )--Smits replaced original lead David Caruso this season in a move that some expected would damage this controversial police drama. Instead, the series is more popular than ever, and many have credited this rise in ratings to Smits, who plays a Portuguese-French detective.

"House of Buggin' " (Fox, 1995- )--John Leguizamo stars in and is executive producer of this sketch comedy show that some have likened to a Latino "In Living Color."

Sources: "Hispanics in Hollywood: An Encyclopedia of Film and Television," by Luis Reyes and Peter Rubie, Garland Publishing; "The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network TV Shows, 1946-Present," by Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh.

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