George Lopez is just one of Toluca Lake’s many prominent celebrity residents.
“I love the neighborhood. I’ve got a golf course nearby, and it’s an easy commute to work,” he told me. Lopez Tonight, his hit late night show on TBS cable, tapes at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank. During a recent visit with the TV critics’ press tour, I found out he has a great set that generates a lot of energy and excitement. That’s probably why he’s got one of the youngest-skewing audiences on late night.
The host is always the engine that drives the success of a chat show, so I wanted to know what qualities does George have to make it happen every night?
“An engaging personality. First of all, I like myself. You don’t find that in a lot of late night hosts,” he said quite frankly. “On the show, I like to take things as they come. We don’t force things. I know I don’t have to do anything other than what got me here — just being entertaining and being funny. I don’t have to over-think it. That’s why I didn’t want a desk. And why I didn’t want cards, because I felt that it takes away from the kind of connection that somebody should have when they are talking to somebody. They should be listening.” That’s an important quality for George.
He explained he’s been a guest on most every late night show, starting with Johnny Carson. “Between Jay Leno, Craig Ferguson, Jimmy Kimmel, and even Conan, I’ve seen how it works when it works well. And the ability to be warm and engaging is a strength you can’t teach.”
Although it was early in the morning, Lopez was already hard at work pulling together all the details for that evening’s show. “I’m actually a morning person,” the comic-entertainer explained. “I get in around 10 a.m., but I’m up early. I’ve always been, because I come from a working class background and never really slept in. So I’m happy with the schedule. It really does make a great day.”
Lopez Tonight tapes at 5:30 p.m. with a studio audience, and the shows air at midnight. His soundstage is just across the way from Conan O’Brien’s set, who tapes his show at 4:30 p.m. Sometimes that creates a nice surprise, such as when Russell Brand was a guest on Conan, “and then he came by and interrupted my monologue. It’s fun to have that happen,” George reported.
The competition for talk show guests can get pretty fierce, noted Lopez Tonight’s executive producer Robert Morton, who previously worked for David Letterman. He said, “We don’t demand any first bookings. We take the people that are right for the show, and we create our own kinds of guests. The new guys, entertaining and fun. It’s a no-brainer, and they turn out to be great guests.”
It was interesting to hear Lopez talk about his interview process. He doesn’t use cards to prompt his questions with his guests. But there is pre-interviewing.
“That helps give structure to the interview, but I try to rely more on the vibe of the guest. It’s interesting because we don’t ask really personal questions. It’s not one of those types of shows.”
Instead Lopez tries to bring out surprising information. He said, “You know, Denzel Washington told me that, when he was 20, he worked as a garbage man, which was fascinating to me. I never heard that before. It wasn’t in the pre-interview. It was nice that it came out and we talked about it. That’s what happens when you listen to the answers to the questions. It’s great when the next question is in the answer.”
For six seasons The George Lopez Show sitcom aired on ABC, and was also filmed at Warner Bros. Studios. George said, “I’ve been on this lot almost ten years now. I like it here. This is my home. I love absolutely everything about it. Television is entertaining. I like working in TV. I never thought I would. I mean, I grew up eight miles from here, but it might as well have been a million miles from here.” Now it’s a short commute for “G.Lo” from the neighborhood.