Chico and the Man is an American sitcom which ran on NBC from September 13, 1974 to July 21, 1978, starring Jack Albertson as Ed Brown (The Man), the cantankerous owner of a run down garage in an East Los Angeles barrio, and Freddie Prinze as Chico Rodriguez, an upbeat, optimistic Chicano street kid who comes in looking for a job. It was the first U.S. television series set in a Mexican-American neighborhood.
A hard-drinking widower, Ed (Albertson) stubbornly refuses to fit in with the changing neighborhood and has alienated most of the people who live around him. Ed uses ethnic slurs and berates Chico in an effort to get him to leave. Yet Chico sees something in Ed, and sneaks back in at night to clean up the garage and move into an old van that Ed has parked inside. As Ed sees all the effort Chico has put in, he begins to warm to Chico. Eventually, Ed grew to see Chico as a son, although he will deny this on many occasions.
The chemistry between Jack Albertson's "Ed" and Freddie Prinze's "Chico" was a major factor in making the show a hit in its first two seasons. It started in the top ten and never left there over those seasons.
The show was created by James Komack who produced other shows like The Courtship of Eddie's Father. Freddie Prinze was discovered by Komack after he appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in December 1973. Komack thought he would be perfect for the part of Chico Rodriguez. As the show progressed, Chico's background was altered to being Mexican on his father's side and Puerto Rican on his mother's side (with a nod to Prinze's Hungarian ancestry in the same line which stated these facts, as Chico remarks in his Hispanic accent, "...and my grandmother speaks a little Hungarian!").
Fans of the show saw the ethnic jabs as a part of the endearing, if acerbic, relationship between "Chico" and "the Man." As Chico once fondly put it, Ed was a minority himself, the barrio's "token white man".
The "Hungarian side of the family" was also mentioned in an episode during the first season, in which Chico plans to leave Ed. Keeping his half of a childhood bargain, Chico's cousin Carlos has invited him to come be the head mechanic in his used-car agency in New York. In a nod to Freddie's background, Chico was revealed to have spent part of his childhood there following the death of his mother, being raised by his Aunt Connie (a character who appeared in two other episodes). Chico attempts to explain his situation to Ed by portraying it as the dilemma of his distant cousin in Hungary, torn between the farmer for whom he now works and whom he has grown to love, and another farmer who has offered him a better job. During this scene and this episode, the love between these disparate characters was made clear for the first time, which Carlos notes when he releases Chico from his promise. The bond between the characters, and the chemistry between Albertson and Prinze, were largely responsible for the show's popularity.
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