Synopsis by Hal Erickson
Produced by James Komack (Welcome Back, Kotter), the weekly, half-hour NBC sitcom Chico and the Man was built around the talents of 20-year-old standup comedian Freddie Prinze, who had scored a sensation during his first appearance on The Tonight Show. Born in the LA barrio, the "Hugarican" (Hungarian-Puerto Rican) Prinze based his comedy act upon the eccentricities of various ethnic groups, peppering his routines with such catchphrases as "Looking Goooood" and "Is not MY job!" Cashing in on Prinze's gift for dialects and his inherent likability, producer Komack cast him as Chico Rodriguez, a flamboyant, good-hearted Latino youth who sweet-talked his way into a mechanic's job in the garage owned by crusty Ed Brown, the only Anglo-Saxon in a predominantly Mexican-American neighborhood. To help teach Prinze the pacing and rhythm of TV situation comedy, Komack cast Jack Albertson, veteran vaudevillian and Oscar-winning film actor, as Ed Brown. Despite old Ed's grouchiness and disdainful opinion of anyone who spoke with an accent and wasn't lily-white, Chico knew deep down that his boss had a heart of gold--and, of course, he was right. Even before the series debuted on September 13, 1974, Chico and the Man was under fire from several prominent Chicano organizations, who complained that, although Ed's garage was supposed to be in an Mexican-American area, there were no Mexicans in the cast or on the crew. This was quickly remedied when Komack hired two semi-regulars of Mexican descent: Rodolfo Hoyos as Ed's buddy Rudy and (Isaac Ruiz) as Chico's pal Mondo. Also, certain pressure groups complained that the name "Chico" was considered derogatory in many Chicano circles, resulting in a number of hastily added closeups in which Chico Rodriguez explained his true ethnic heritage and the "harmless" origin of his nickname. Finally, the writers were chastised for Ed Brown's occasional racial slurs, and as result such lines as "Get outta here--and take your flies with you" were carefully weeded out of late scripts. Eventually, a handful of African American organizations chimed in with their casting "suggestions", but Komack beat them to the punch by hiring veteran black showman Scatman Crothers to play affable neighborhood garbage collector Louie Wilson. During the second season, only Prinze, Albertson and Crothers remained of the original cast; added to the lineup was Ronny Graham as Reverend Bemis. Season three began with a two-parter introducing Della Reese as Della Rogers, an old "friendly enemy" of Ed Brown's who'd become his landlady. Things proceeded along smoothly thereafter until tragedy struck on January 27, 1977, when Freddie Prinze, who despite his "carefree" TV persona suffered from a variety of personal problems, committed suicide. Since Prinze had already taped most of the season's episodes, his death would not be addressed on the show until the beginning of Season Four (surprisingly those media pundits who assumed that, without Chico, there would be no Season Four for Chico and the Man!) At that time, Ed Brown adopted an 11-year-old Mexican orphan named Raul Garcia (played by 12-year-old Gabriel Melgar), who'd stowed away in Ed's car when he and his pal Louie had gone on a south-of-the-border fishing trip. Conveniently enough, Raul preferred to be called "Chico", enabling the series to retain its title. But audiences, already depressed by the devastating loss of Freddie Prinze, did not warm up to the Ed-Raul combination, nor did the addition to the cast of flamboyant entertainer Charo as Raul's eccentric Aunt Charo help matters any. The final episode of Chico and the Man was telecast on July 21, 1978. Throughout its run, the series had been introduced by a lively theme song, written and performed by Jose Feliciano.