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'George Lopez' breaks barrier

The fact that ABC's "George Lopez Show" is a family comedy based on a stand-up comedian's act is nothing new in the world of network television. The fact that George Lopez is a Mexican-American, however, is revolutionary.

"I think that television is still very black and white," Lopez said. "I never expected to really have an opportunity to change the way people see television, and it's great to have that opportunity."

And it's an opportunity that doesn't come around for many Latino actors — the chance to star in their own network show. (His premieres Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. on Ch. 4.) It's one that Lopez has actually had before and turned down.

"There were some opportunities to proceed with my own show, but the people were all wrong and the characters were all wrong," Lopez said. "It was all, like, immigrant background, and it was all things that everybody had seen and failed. . . . I have a list of parts that I turned down that they would have given me, but they were the wrong part and derogatory and stereotypical to Latinos."

"George Lopez," however, is both very specific to its star and not all that specific to his ethnic background. The fictional George Lopez, like his real counterpart, is a family man. The character has a wife, Angie (Constance Marie); two kids — a teenage daughter, Carmen (Masiela Lusha) and a preteen son, Max (Luis Armand Garcia); and an overbearing mother, Benny (Belita Moreno). After years as an assembly line worker at an aircraft parts factory, George has just been promoted to manager — making him his mother's boss.

In real life, Lopez was raised by his tough grandmother, who did indeed get him a job at a factory back in the early '80s.

"The only reason I got the job is because I was Benny's grandson," he said. "There was no test, thank God."

And he insists the two Bennys are very much alike — right down to the fictional Benny's criticism about George and Angie's parenting skills.

"I don't see anybody getting hit," Benny says.

"We don't hit our kids, Benny," Angie replies. "We threaten to send them to your house."

And, when told he has to cut his mother's job at work, George says, "You want me to fire my mom? I get scared wishing her a happy birthday."

None of which has anything to do with the characters being Latino. The only real ethnic joke in the pilot is when young Carmen doesn't want to take swimming at school and George says, "Why does she need to know how to swim? We're already here."

"When you get to see me and hang out with me, you realize I'm just an American guy who happens to be of Mexican descent," Lopez said. "So we're just a family like any other family. We don't really rely heavily on that."

Still, executive producer Bruce Helford ("Drew Carey," "Roseanne," "Nikki") insists, "It's about him and his wife and his two kids and what families go through, but also with the extra layer that this is a Latino family.

"This is not a show meant to represent all Latino people. . . . But this is going to be a different show," Helford said. "These are stories and attitudes and things that you really haven't seen on primetime American TV in a major way. . . . This is definitely from a Latino point of view. The characters are all influenced by how they have been raised and what is culturally relevant to them."

"George Lopez" is a show you can't help but root for because its star is so likeable. And, yes, it would be great to see more ethnic diversity on TV.

But while the pilot isn't bad, it isn't all that good. But being likeable and mildly amusing is a start.

"I mean, I would hope that the networks would try to get more Latinos on TV. . . . I really believe this is ABC's answer to NBC buying (Spanish-language network) Telemundo," Lopez joked. "It's less expensive and accomplishes the same thing."