Saturday, April 18, 2015

Classic TV: Chico & The Man (1974)

Producer James Komack put himself back on the map beginning in 1974 with the debut of Chico & The Man for NBC. Komack, who'd acted, as well as writing and producing, on The Courtship of Eddie's Father, struck paydirt on his first try.

Komack had discovered Freddie Prinze (Chico) when the young comic appeared on The Tonight Show a year earlier, and developed Chico with Prinze in mind. Jack Albertson ("Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory") was cast as embittered garage owner and widower Ed Brown, who initially didn't want Chico Rodriguez around, but Chico saw something positive inside of Ed, and did some late night, ah,  maintenance work in the garage. Brown eventually was won over and hired Chico.

Halfway through the 3rd season, unfortunately, Prinze, suffering from depression, took his own life. Rather than end the series, Komack opted to work around the loss of his star, such that when the series was renewed for a 4th season, he opted to create a "new Chico" in 12 year old Raul (Gabriel Melgar). This also brought Charo on board as Raul's Aunt Charo. Della Reese became a series regular as well, to add additional veteran presence to Albertson and Scatman Crothers (whose animated series, Hong Kong Phooey, premiered the same year as Chico). However, the ratings, which started to decline after Prinze's passing, continued to tumble, and the show was finally cancelled.

After scattered cable runs, Chico now rests in the WB vaults. Try figuring that one out.

Following is a montage of opening & closings from seasons 1-3, plus excerpts from a season 2 episode with guest star Jose Feliciano, who plays Chico's cousin Pepe, giving Feliciano an excuse to perform the show's theme, which he co-wrote, and an excerpt of his cover of the Doors' "Light My Fire".

During its NBC run, Chico was perfectly placed on Fridays, in back of Sanford & Son. The idea being that while Sanford addressed racism from the African-American point of view, Chico offered the white POV. In a way, Chico and Lamont Sanford (Demond Wilson) had something in common.

Rating: A.


magicdog said...

This show was cute in the early seasons but once Prinze died, it really should have ended. My guess is Komack was either under pressure from the network to keep the show on or he hoped he could keep the gravy train rolling while hoping the viewing audience was too stupid to notice the changes.

hobbyfan said...

And it didn't work. Komack's empire tumbled from there. "Chico" ended after 4 seasons, as did "Welcome Back, Kotter".