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The Cincinnati Enquirer

Lots Of Latin Laughs

Two new comedies, one featuring a Delhi Township native, show Hispanic-Americans poking fun at themselves

By John Kiesewetter

September 20, 2003
Copyright © 2003 The Cincinnati Enquirer. All rights reserved. 

LOS ANGELES - After years of playing secretaries and assistants, Diana-Maria Riva finally can be who she is on TV - a loud, opinionated mother of Dominican descent.

"My spirit is much closer to her than anyone I've ever played before," says Riva, the 1987 St. Ursula Academy graduate who plays Isabella, the ex-wife of Luis Guzman in Fox's comedy Luis.

The Dominican Isabella and Puerto Rican Luis - plus Fox's Mexican-American sitcom The Ortegas - give this fall season a distinctively Latin flavor.

Along with ABC's George Lopez Show, viewers will see a trio of comedies aimed at America's expanding Hispanic population.

"We are the fastest growing population in the country, so they have to put something (on) for that group," says Jaclyn DeSantis (Road Trip), who plays Riva's daughter. "It's a huge audience."

Viewers this fall will see a colorful variety of Latino characters from different cultures poking fun at each other, not unlike the way Ohioans make fun of Southerners, says Riva, who grew up in Delhi Township as Diana Uhlenbrock. She took the maiden name of her mother, who was born in the Dominican Republic, when she began acting professionally here in 1995.

In Luis (8:30 p.m. Friday), the Spanish Harlem donut shop owner Luis (Guzman) complains that his Dominican ex-wife should have given birth to a highly-paid shortstop.

Isabella retorts: "Oh, please! He'd be half Puerto Rican, so he'd be too lazy to practice."

Riva, whose credits include Kim Delaney's Philly, Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Mel Gibson's What Women Want, says her Isabella "can be as big, and colorful and as loud as I want to make her. And I'm pretty loud and pretty colorful, and I've got big hair," she says.

"I have family in Ohio, and you don't see Dominicans or Puerto Ricans really there, so you're not really accustomed to it (But) it's very comical and exiting and fun to watch," Riva says.

Close to home

Guzman, born in Puerto Rico and raised in New York, says Luis also comes close to home.

"I grew up with Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Mexicans, Central American people," says the actor, whose credits include Out of Sight, Carlito's Way, Oz, Boogie Nights, Traffic and Anger Management.

"I get to portray how I grew up, and how I related to people, and how people related to me. It's a wonderful thing. I mean, for me, it's a no-brainer," he says.

In the show, Luis expresses his disappointment that his daughter has fallen in love with a starving artist. "Of all the white guys in the world, you found the one with no money," he says.

On The Ortegas (8:30 p.m. Sunday), based on a British TV hit, a young Mexican-American (comedian Al Madrigal) hosts a TV talk show in his backyard studio.

Co-hosting the show-within-a-show are his immigrant parents (Cheech Marin, Terri Hoyos) and grandmother (Renee Victor), in this half-hour program that's part scripted, part ad-lib.

"There have been other Latino shows, but this is the first one incorporating improv," says Hoyos, daughter of Mexican actor Adolfo Hoyos and wife of Greenhills native John Donovan.

Hoyos as Esmeralda Ortega has the best line in the pilot, when she asks talk show guest Howie Mandel: "If you are Canadian, and you are Jewish, can you eat Canadian bacon?"

In the scripted part of the show, before the "talk show" begins, the three generations of Ortegas joke about their favorite Mexican foods and about having a 30-year-old son still living at home.

"Latinos have a wonderful sense of humor about themselves," says Hoyos, who has appeared in Bulworth, Family Law, Touched by an Angel and Diagnosis Murder. "We love joking about our culture."

Until George Lopez premiered in spring 2002, Hispanic series could only be found on PBS (American Family) and cable (Resurrection Boulevard, The Brothers Garcia).

ABC has been so pleased with George Lopez that it will anchor the network's new T.G.I.F. ("Thank Goodness It's Funny") lineup at 8 p.m. Friday this fall.

CBS show in works

By next fall, CBS could have a Latino comedy on the air. CBS has "a wonderful script that includes a Hispanic family, but we couldn't find the right cast. Unless we have the right cast, we're not going to do it," says Nancy Tellem, CBS Entertainment president.

Guzman thanks Fox "for being very supportive, by adding Luis and The Ortegas to the TV picture.

"It's about time there are more Latino shows," says Victor from The Ortegas, a veteran actress, singer and choreographer (Two Days in the Valley, Assassination Tango). "Black shows have been prevalent for a long time."

"I think we're headed in the right direction, but we've got a long way to go" Riva says.

"You know that the networks tend to keep up with the Joneses," she says. "Maybe they'll start keeping up with the Lopezes."

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