George Lopez brings heat and spice to late night chat, the interview

TBS announced a new late-night talk show hosted by George Lopez that will premiere November 2009.  This show will air on the network Monday through Thursday at 11:00 pm.

Lopez promises a “blended” late-night TV show that will hit needed pockets of the country starved for non-white comedic entertainment perspective.

Lopez spoke to assembled journalists on a conference call last week and joked with one from Miami, ”We’re gonna have a Castro death-watch clock in the corner of the screen!”

The TBS talk show promised to be pure Lopez- said with jest and goodwill – to an audience who wants a more ethnic slice of celebrity life.

Lopez is a Mexican-American of humble origins married to a Cuban American, his wife Ann the donor of his life-saving kidney a few years back.

Now Lopez’s 11 p.m. show, which will debut in November, will have more “sabor” and heat than his paler counterparts, Jay, Dave, Conan and Jimmy.

”For whatever reason, I have the ability to connect with people regardless of color or age,” says Lopez of his comedic gifts, who took his stand-up comedy act and  created a sitcom that ran on ABC from 2002-2007.

Lopez spoke to Monsters and Critics and some other online journalists the day of the announcement last week and shared his thoughts, and answered our questions.

What unique things do you see yourself bringing to late night chat?

George Lopez:  Well,  first of all, I’m not a white male.  So I’m of color already.  You put me and Craig Ferguson right next to each other and you’ll see a huge difference already.

I’m going to bring a more eclectic group of actors, a more eclectic music from Mana to Santana to Slash to Garth Brooks and all of them it’s –I know some pretty high profile people in Hollywood and in music and in comedy and actors and actresses.  And they all seem to be pretty supportive of the idea.

And there’s just an audience that is beyond The Hills and Gossip Girl and I feel like I can pull those people to TBS and they can watch a show that is –I’m trying to be completely inclusive to bridge a gap that I think exists that – I watch TV and I’m a fan of TV.  I’ve been watching it my whole life.

I think it’s still very much black and white.  And what I do is I throw myself and my hat into the ring.  And there’s the largest growing demographic of people in the United States are Latinos.  And unfortunately a lot of the news regarding Latinos is all very negative.

Well, this today is a good story.

Is TV chat ready for you, will you be much different than what we have already?

George Lopez:  Here’s the beauty of that.  All of those shows have been on ABC, NBC, or CBS.  Now, I don’t know if you are going to regret saying this to me because I am a little bit out there when it comes to standup.

But the head of TBS said, “Listen, George, we’re cable so take some liberties with the language.”  I think they may come back to bite him in the ass.
So there’s certain – I think what Bill Maher – you look at Bill Maher on HBO.  Incredibly funny and it does have some bite to it because of language.  And you know you don’t have that option on NBC.  I have the option on TBS and I’d rather have that bullet in my gun than not have it.
I’m sure a motherf*cker will slip out now and then.

Are you watching Jimmy Fallon on late night?

George Lopez:  I’ve been aware –I know Jimmy.  I know Jimmy pretty good from Saturday Night Live and I’ve talked to him a few times over the years.  And I invited him to the Bob Hope golf tournament that I hosted last year and he was amazing.  I mean, really, I mean, a talented cat.

I, unfortunately, am sleeping at that time, and I haven’t TiVo’d it because I didn’t want to be influenced by what he was doing or I didn’t want to say anything because I’d rather not know and only speak of him as trying to get his feet on a show taking over for somebody, which can’t be easy.  You know what I mean?

Like I know he’s working hard.  I know it’s a difficult job to do and I didn’t want to either have an opinion or give an opinion either way because I know it’s difficult to step into somebody, especially Conan O’Brien’s shoes.
Was that a good answer?

Also I’ll say to my benefit, I’ve never been happier not to be a white male than I am today.

You were the first guy to say, “Gentlemen, start your engines,” at a NASCAR race in Spanish.…

George Lopez:  Actually, I didn’t say, “Gentlemen, start your engines.”  I said, “Is there anybody out there who has an extra (churro),” but it just – nobody understood what I was saying at a NASCAR race.
They didn’t notice.

Do you feel like, with this show, that you will be perceived as a trailblazer in another way?

George Lopez:  Well, I feel that Arsenio was the original trailblazer.  I was fortunate enough to be on his show from June of 1989 to May of 1994.  I think I made 16 appearances.
 He and I became very friendly during that time.  And in that time, I did The Tonight Show in 1991 on November 21, one of the last comedians to do The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

And Johnny Carson was very nice to me not only during the show but after the show.  And I’ve been on The Tonight Show a couple of times with Jay Leno.  And you know I’ve been on nine times on Ellen and I think ten times on Jimmy Kimmel’s show.  And it’s all been great.

You know I’ve watched The Tonight Show and Letterman and you know Mike Douglas, like everybody, man.  You hear everybody talk about Mike Douglas and Dinah Shore and Dick Cavett, fantastic. 

And those shows – because I was a child of TV.  I was an only child and I wanted to be a comedian…this year’s my 30-year anniversary of being a comedian.

Now what I feel with this talk show is that there’s an audience, obviously even just by looking at the people that I’m going to talk to in the next 40 minutes, that’s incredibly diverse and ethnically enhanced now that wasn’t there 30 years ago, 20 years ago, even 10 years ago.

So, we’re in a position now where it was tough to have a Latino guy who would cross over and appeal to everyone.  With the success of George Lopez on Nickelodeon and for the 6 years it was on ABC, I have that luxury of – it’s almost become like one word, George Lopez, it’s never just George.  I mean, I’m actually thinking about having the space removed and have it just be GeorgeLopez, one word.

I’m not afraid of a challenge.  I’m not intimidated by having a camera on me.  And over the last 10 years of being in Hollywood, I’ve made some pretty good high profile friends.   You know Samuel L. Jackson was in my production pilot because I called him and so was Eva Longoria and Dane Cook and I used Shakira’s band.

So I’ve already been endorsed by some pretty high profile celebrities as wanting to be on this show.  So I think those are all pluses in my favor.

Who would be your top five must-have guests on your show?  And why?

George Lopez:  Well, I’d love to have Michael Jackson on because he’s black and white.  So he would appeal to a universal demographic.

Now he’s doing shows again.  I was thinking about actually going to London to see one of his shows.  I testified in his trial because I knew the accuser because I was his coach at a comedy camp at the Laugh Factory.  And if Michael Jackson is performing it becomes a huge musical act.

But also, I’m a huge fan of Mana, they’re like U2, that politically relevant and that socially relevant.   And I can’t remember the last time I saw Mana on English speaking TV.  Now they have an opportunity to do that.  I mean, they’re one of the biggest bands that’s ever performed and an incredibly successful, popular group for all fans.

But why not Latinos?  Why shouldn’t Latinos have a show where they can see Denzel Washington and Mana on the same show?

I became friendly with Barack Obama because I was out there campaigning with him.  And I went from Texas to Michigan to Virginia to Miami the day before the election. 

So he helped me with a little piece that we did for the production pilot.  So you know I’d love to have Barack Obama on.

But also, I’d love Michelle.  You know Jay Leno had Barack but I’d love to have Barack and Michelle at the same time, baby.  Why should only 60 Minutes get that?  I’d love to have his mother on (too).

So yes  obviously from Juanes to Santana to will.i.am to Garth Brooks, they’re all – everybody’s in play, except maybe Erik Estrada.

Why not?

George Lopez:  Not a fan.

Will you delegate the monologue writing or do it all yourself?

George Lopez:  What’s beautiful – even though it doesn’t work in basketball, I think it works in comedy.  Player coaches never work in basketball.  Like when Michael Jordan, I think, tried to be a player coach it didn’t work because you’re not going to take yourself out of the game or be objective.

I actually love collaborating because I have my own path now, and I’m not going to say something that would be something that I wouldn’t say.  I mean, that’s to be organic to me and the edgier the better.  And I’m not afraid to take on somebody or say something that somebody will find offensive because unfortunately in comedy, you can’t say anything really good without offending somebody.

How did this all come together at TBS? Do you prefer it to sitcoms?

George Lopez:  I’m out of the sitcom business.  I love the fact that I never thought I would get a sitcom nor did I ever think I would be in syndication nor did I ever think the show would be more successful in syndication than it was in production.

But that’s been kind of the way my career’s been where it’s all been unexpected.  You know George Lopez can’t do this and I get nominated for two Grammys.  I haven’t won, but I still got nominated for two Grammys, completely unexpected.  I was number 9 on the top 10 Harris Poll and been on the Forbes list.  I grew up dirt poor so I’ve exceeded my own expectations.

I’m not afraid of this challenge nor am I afraid to try to be a little – a little edgier nor am I afraid to take something and just make it my own.  I’m not sure if you can reinvent the talk show format, but I think you can paint with different colors.  And already we’re going to use more, obviously, brown and taupe and mauve and more colors than I think are being used right now in late-night.

When I was doing the show, I got a push by Jim Paratore who worked on Rosie O’Donnell and who’s working on Ellen.  And this was – I probably was in my episode –  in the 30s, and I met him and he said, “Would you consider doing a talk show?”  And I said, “Look, I’ve got a show.”  And he said, “Well, it’s not going to run forever, but when it’s over, at least please keep it in the back of your mind.”

So over the last 5 years that I would see that guy he would always mention it to me.  And I’ve been out for 2 years.  One of the reasons I find this challenge so interesting is because I believe that there’s an audience out there that’s not – that’s not being serviced.  And it’s diverse.

It’s really what got Barack Obama elected.  Barack Obama didn’t get elected solely on the white vote.  And he got people to the polls who normally wouldn’t have voted and they voted and they stood in line for hours. 

So seeing that inspires you to know that those people all have TVs.  And especially being Latino I know that sometimes there are three TVs on in our house and two of them might be in Spanish and one of them’s in English, or two of them might be in English and one of them’s in Spanish.  And that’s fine.  And that all counts.

But I don’t think that’s represented by particularly the numbers that come out in Nielsen.  I think we’re under-looked.  And if you look at the newscast, I think that Spanish news and novellas beat the hell out of ‘How I Met Your Mother.’

TBS states there will be a “street party atmosphere”, elaborate please.

George Lopez:   Well, when I shot my pilot in August, I shot it outside.  And I used the entrance to ER, that whole ambulance entrance with the L train and we lit those pillars and we made – it had a depth and we used a (jumbo mart) from ER and we shot it out in the street. 
And we didn’t use chairs.  We used kind of an amphitheater feel and we had people pretty much almost not 360 but pretty – 240 around me.

And since I’m a standup, I’m not put out by people being right on top of me.  And they were excited to see me because they know me already.  And you know I used (Sam) Jackson.  I called (Sam Jackson).  He was on my show. 

I called Eva Longoria.  She was there.  And I know Dane Cook, he was on.  And I called Kaley Cuoco.  I’ve known Kaley Cuoco since she was 16.  And I used Shakira’s band.

So in that presentation outside, it already looked different.  And then I didn’t use a desk.  And I really don’t want to use cards.  I don’t want to have to read what’s going to happen next.  I mean, in 7 minutes I don’t think – I mean, if you do your work, I don’t think you need cards.

Where do you shoot the show?

George Lopez:  I will be in L.A..  I’ll be at Warner Brothers.

It’s fantastic because it’s 3 minutes from my house, not that I’m opposed to drive but you know the closer to the house, the better.

How does the audience interact with you and the guests?

George Lopez:  You know what I did is when I interviewed Eva for the pilot, I’d have the audience ask like three questions.

I don’t know if the people do that.  And what I did is we didn’t screen the questions.  So that’ll be different, you give a mic to somebody.  I think you have to pay somebody every time they talk, but TBS has got some bank.  They’ll be all right with that.

I’ll be funny and joking around and then slip in if they’ve ever been convicted of a felony.  Now you know at that hour, after long days, I’d like to just have it be funny.  I’d like to bring out the best in them and for me to have a good time with them.  You know what I mean?  I don’t want it to be heavy because that’s what Anderson Cooper’s for or Lou Dobbs.

What I want to do is sometimes do interviews in the middle of the people or put them 360 sometimes.  I don’t think that there has to be like this kind of imaginary wall.  I mean, look, I’m a Latino so I’m not four walls.

I don’t think there needs to be this kind of disconnect.  I feel like it can all work and all work kind of together.  You know we’re kind of together.  I mean, I had a standing room only section on the pilot, and I intend to recreate that on the show in November.

So inclusive, closer, they can ask questions, I don’t want them to heckle but I don’t want them to feel like they’re not part of it just by coming and just watching and like they’re watching a movie.  It’s not going to have a movie feel.  It’ll have like you’re really there, like we’re going to be present.

I don’t know if we’ll use applause signs but if we do, they’ll be bilingual.  I think that would be the first time you’ll have English and Spanish applause signs.

So I just, at that hour, 11 o’clock, just have it be a little – have some shit happen that is not on a card, that’s more spontaneous or an answer that you didn’t expect to get or a follow-up question that – I can’t say most of those guys would be afraid to ask – but a follow-up question that comes from my mind which thinks differently.

So, unique to my own sensibility and my own humor but ultimately they’ll understand that there’ll be a certain aspect of it that’ll be off the cuff.  I think that is different already.

Will you cut your touring for this show?

George Lopez: I was on the road last week and then I was at The Fox Theatre in Atlanta and the marketing people and advertising, some of the – all of the marketing people and the head of TBS came to the show.  And they’re very excited, as is Telepictures, as is Warner Brothers and you know as I am.

So I don’t intend it to cut into my tour schedule.  As a matter of fact, in August on the – August 8 I’m doing a live HBO special from the AT&T Center in San Antonio. 
And the weekend after that, I think I’m doing Radio City Music Hall in New York and then I’m going to take a little bit of a break and concentrate on getting the show ready in November.

So I intend to go full bore not only with the talk show but with the schedule and creating the next HBO special.

Does your audience at the standup gigs expect a “clean” TV George Lopez?

George Lopez:  Well I didn’t like when kids came because they thought they were going to see the ‘Nick at Nite’ George Lopez.  It’s almost like having two brothers and one is the bad brother when you come over you have to hide like your valuables and then one is the good brother that drives the Beamer and doesn’t tint his windows because it’s illegal.

So I managed to gradually and – although I think there’s been some people who have walked out, unfortunately.  But they brought kids.  And now it is posted everywhere, “For Mature Audiences and Over 18 Only.”

But I love my young fans.  What I’ve done sometimes, too, is if there’s a couple of kids, like maybe seven kids, I’ll pull the kids out of the audience, give them their money back and then give them sweatshirts and t-shirts and meet them after the show.  And they’re happy with that.

What do you think is the secret to any great late-night talk show?

George Lopez:  Well, I’ve been on a lot of those shows, but I think what I – what appeals to me more – I mean, I love the energy of Ellen’s audience from the time they get in. 

And I was telling Ellen the last time I was on – which was like a month ago – that I had a meeting and they had her show on and the sound was off and through the sound being off, those people looked like they were having a great time.

You know what’s going on in this country and what’s going on in the world and what’s going on economically and what’s going on with people financially is something that hasn’t happened in our lifetime.  And there’s enough heavy shit out there.

So these people looked like they were happy.  And I would like to continue that.  And I was around Arsenio from ’89 for the 5 years he was on, and I don’t think I’ve ever stood on the side of a stage in the beginning of a show where there was more excitement than before Arsenio came out.  And that was 20 years ago, so that audience went to him in droves.

And I believe that there’s an audience but kids of that audience and that’s bigger and more ethnically diverse which makes me want to be more inclusive and really makes me want to show TV that all of that is viable, that those dollars that people – that those people spend, that the money that African-American people have, and the Latinos have and that Asian people have and that everyone is branded. 
Nothing is black and white anymore.  You know Barack Obama has a white mother and his father’s Kenyan.

So it isn’t black and white anymore, man.  It’s just – you know if anybody should know blended, it’s people now because every drink we have is blended.  Everything’s blended.

Note the date on this article may be incorrect due to importing it from our old system.