With shows like Good Times and Kung Fu, racial diversity hit prime time television in a big way during the 1970’s. Chico and the Man took up the trend in a big way, presenting a Hispanic character as one of its leads, plus a host of other characters of different races. Like many 1970’s sitcoms, it blended social consciousness and good old-fashioned laughs to become an audience favorite.
Created by James Komack and Alan Sacks, the same creative duo who developed Welcome Back Kotter, Chico and the Man focused on the unlikely duo of Ed Brown and Chico Rodriguez. Ed was a Caucasian garage owner living in East Los Angeles, and Chico was the energetic, enterprising Puerto Rican kid who talked his way into a job at Ed’s garage. Ed was a widower and crank that tended to drive business away, but Chico balanced him out by sweet-talking customers (and available young ladies) to patronize the garage. Chico also pushed Ed towards improving the garage, with an eye towards an ultimately becoming Ed’s partner.
Another popular character on Chico and the Man was Louie, a garbage man who got many a laugh with his line, “Put out your can, here comes the garbage man!” Other characters included Mabel, the local mailwoman, and Ramon, a friend of Chico’s. Later, the cast added the holy rolling Reverend Bemis and Della, a lunch wagon owner. Della also happened to be Ed’s landlady, and the verbal duels between old crank Ed and feisty, civic-minded Della soon became a highlight of the show.
Despite the contributions of these characters, the heart of Chico and the Man was the relationship between the two title characters. Chico was every bit the streetwise hustler, yet he truly cared about Ed’s well being and genuinely wanted to see his garage become a success. Ed may have been a grouch, occasionally allowing his prejudiced attitudes to make him suspicious of Chico, but there was no doubt that this lonely old man was touched by the fact that Chico cared about him.
Chico and the Man became an instant hit when it debuted on NBC in 1974. Vaudeville veteran Jack Albertson won his share of praise for his performance as Ed, but it was stand-up comedian Freddie Prinze’s turn as the wily Chico that solidified the show’s across-the-board success. His cheekily-drawled “Lookin’ goood!” became a national catchphrase, and his good looks soon landed Prinze on the cover of many a teen magazine. The show was further helped by occasional guest appearances from celebrities like Sammy Davis, Jr. and Jose Feliciano (who also sang the show’s theme song). The end result was a hit with a bright future.
In early 1977, fans of Chico and the Man everywhere mourned after hearing the news that Freddie Prinze had committed suicide (Prinze was only 22 at the time, apparently the actor was heavily fascinated by guns and often told friends that he wouldn’t live to be an old man. On 27 Jan 1977 he shot himself in the head, dying two days later). The show’s producers considered canceling the show but decided to continue in tribute to Prinze’s memory. When Chico and the Man returned for its fourth season, it featured a new Chico: this time, Chico was a scrappy 12 year-old Mexican boy who snuck into the trunk of Ed’s car when The Man visited Mexico with Louie. Ed decided to adopt Chico, but he soon discovered that the bargain had an extra rider: Aunt Charo, Chico’s Spanish entertainer relative, tracked down Chico and ended up moving in with him and Ed.
Chico and the Man ended its run in the summer of 1978 after four successful years. Since then, the show has become a perennial favorite in the world of syndicated television. The chemistry between the two leads still seems fresh, and even today, the sound of Chico’s “Lookin’ gooood!” can bring a smile to the face of many a 70’s kid.
USA / NBC – Warner Bros / x30 minute episodes / Broadcast 13 September 1974 – 21 July 1978
Creators and Executive Producers: James Komack, Alan Sacks / Theme Music: Chico and the Man by Jose Feliciano
JACK ALBERTSON as Ed Brown (The Man)
FREDDIE PRINZ as Chico Rodriguez (1974-77)
GABRIEL MELGAR as Raul Garcia (1977-78)
BONNIE BOLAND as Mabel (1974-75)
SCATMAN CROTHERS as Louie Wilson
ISAAC RUIZ as Mando
DELLA REESE as Della Rogers
CHARO as Aunt Charo (1977-1978)