"It sounds different than any other shows," Helford said, although there seemed to be some confusion about the characters' accents. Helford said Ernie was born in Mexico, despite Rodriguez's view of his character. Helford also said the mother's origins are unclear, while the actress playing her, Belita Moreno, is sure she plays an East L.A. native who learned English as a second language.
No, said Helford.
"We haven't gotten around to where she's from, but she has an accent, so she's old world," he said.
There has yet to be a sitcom with central Latin characters who are complicated and real, like the black leads in "My Wife and Kids" and Fox's "The Bernie Mac Show." There have also been relatively few attempts.
In 1987, ABC premiered "I Married Dora," with Elizabeth Pena as an undocumented Central American housekeeper who avoided deportation by convincing her boss to marry her. This plot line violated INS law, and the network ran a full-screen caveat and disclaimer to viewers: "You should not try this in your own house."
In 1996, meanwhile, the network featured Greg Giraldo as a Latino lawyer in "Common Law," another short-lived comedy. And last year, NBC ordered a comedy pilot featuring Latina comic Debi Gutierrez, but the show fizzled in the development stage.
PBS, meanwhile, is airing "American Family," a rare Latino drama developed and passed on by CBS. The network remains publicly supportive of the show, even though it has averaged less than a 1 rating (or 1% of U.S. homes) since its January premiere, a disappointing figure for any network.
The drama's cast underscores the small population of Latino performers with television experience. Some "American Family" cast members are juggling their work on the drama with roles on other series, including Esai Morales, who co-stars on ABC's "NYPD Blue," and Constance Marie, who plays Lopez's wife on the new series.
"The George Lopez Show" came to ABC by way of film star Sandra Bullock, and the ease with which she landed a deal testifies to the strength of connections in Hollywood. She pushed for a television project about two years ago and sent out feelers that she was interested in good comics. She caught his act at the Improv in Brea, met him after the show and said she wanted to pursue a sitcom centered on him. Bullock, Helford and two of the show's other executive producers met with ABC executives in August, and the network committed to 13 episodes.
As always, the hope is that the show's humor will play not only to Latinos but to a wider audience. In the first few minutes of the premiere, for example, Lopez tells his teenage daughter that she doesn't have to learn how to swim because "we're already here."
"The George Lopez Show" premieres Wednesday night at 8:30 on ABC. The network has rated it TV-PG-L (may be unsuitable for young children, with an advisory for coarse language).