On this day in comedy on September 13, 1974 Chico and the Man premiered on NBC
With theme music provided by Jose Feliciano, comedy team Cheech and Chong were the inspiration for this first sitcom in a Latin setting. Show creator, James Komack watched the duo for months and once he’d wrapped his brain around a show from two of their bits (“The Old Man in the Park” and “Pedro and Man”) he approached them with his pitch. They turned him down. They were in movies and TV just didn’t appeal to them so Komack revamped his idea to be about a young Chicano and an old WASP.
Komack cast hot young Latin stand-up Freddie Prinze as Chico and seasoned stage and screen veteran, Jack Albertson as Ed Brown, The Man. Brown ran a struggling garage in East L. A. and Chico needed a job. Even though Brown does business around Latins he doesn’t like them and uses racial slurs whenever he gets a chance. This was not good for business, but Chico sees the old guy just needs to grow with the changing times and forces himself onto Brown by cleaning his garage and showing he’s not your typical lazy Chicano stereotype. As time progresses Brown starts to like Chico even though he would deny it if asked. That was the dynamic of this break away hit, which also featured Della Reese, Scatman Crothers and Ronny Graham.
Chico and the Man debuted and stayed in Nielsen’s Top 10 for its first two seasons. It probably would’ve remained there had Prinze not committed suicide on January 28, 1977 at the age of 22. The comedian was struggling with drug addiction and depression and shot himself in the head. He was taken off of life support the on January 29th of that same year. Instead of cancelling the show, the producers made a lame attempt to say that Chico had gone to Mexico to be with relatives and an even lamer attempt to replace him. They tried a 12-year-old kid, brought in singer Charro and towards the end, an 18-year-old adopted niece. None of the new characters caught fire and so ratings steadily declined and Chico and The Man was cancelled and aired its final episode on July 21, 1978.
By Darryl “D’Militant” Littleton
Check out this clip: