Third-generation San Antonian Cleto Rodriguez landed his first late-night talk show on former Houston station LAT-TV three years ago.
The comic busted his ass to keep Late Night Live with Cleto Rodriguez’s 13-episode run alive back then, although he probably wouldn’t put it that way. Rodriguez abandoned curse words and just about every other vulgarity after he met his wife Lynette, a devout Christian, but memories of setting up and tearing down sets by himself after celebrity interviews still make him cringe.
So Rodriguez was ecstatic when he found out earlier this month that local FOX affiliate KABB channel 29 wanted to upgrade his latest incarnation, The Cleto Show, from bimonthly airings to a weekly time slot in hopes of netting a wider
“It was almost like being asked to eat at the big kids’ table,” he said.
The sitcom/talk show, shot locally with the occasional musical performance sprinkled in, premiered to San Antonio audiences May 16. It’s written and directed by Mickey and Gibby Cevallos of Cevallos Brothers Productions, which signed on San Antonio starlet Eva Longoria Parker as executive producer earlier this year.
The Cevallos brothers and Rodriguez envision the pilot as a vehicle for showcasing the city and its talent, and indeed most of program’s charm lies in its locations.
Rodriguez and comedian Tommy Muñoz, who plays Cleto’s sidekick and producer, Jesús, pop up at Woodlawn Lake, the River Walk, Fiesta, and local Tex-Mex joints. It’s a boon for locals who have been starving to see their favorite haunts on TV, Gibby Cevallos said.
The Cleto Show attempts meta-humor through a show-within-a-show premise similar to The Larry Sanders Show or I’m Alan Partridge, following Rodriguez’s hijinks as he and Muñoz try to make it big with a late-night talk show based in San Antonio. The on-screen Cleto and Jesus are broke but determined to make it work, much like the real-life Rodriguez’s early years.
“I remember trying to make ends meet,” Rodriguez said. “I worked to help out a landscaping company. It was so embarrassing. I thought, here I am with my own little show `Late Night Live`, and I’m still laying sod.”
Gibby Cevallos is betting that audiences will identify with Cleto’s struggle to make something out of nothing, but that’s pretty hard to do when you’re not sure what that something is. (See sidebar for our review of the first episode.)
“When the first episode came out it was really 50/50. A lot of people liked it, some didn’t,” Rodriguez said, adding that he and the Cevallos brothers have been on hiatus, retooling The Cleto Show in response to some of those critiques for its weekly time slot which starts July 11.
“We wanted to bring something different, refreshing,” Rodriguez said. “Something that meets down the middle to relate to everyone.”
Self-deprecating and full of La Fonda tacos, The Cleto Show is superficially exactly what it sets out to be — San Antonio’s very own late-night TV show. Alamo City locations figure as prominently in the first episode as Cleto Rodriguez and sidekick Jesús (Tommy Muñoz), but a weekly show (as Cleto is scheduled to become beginning July 11) needs more than shots of the San Antonio skyline to justify its existence.
Episode one begins with Cleto and Jesús in an oily TV exec’s office, laughing at a recording of their own talk show. They’re the only ones laughing, but the suit signs them for a 10-episode deal anyway, with one stipulation: Cleto and Jesús, both noticeably rotund and chomping snacks by the handful throughout the meeting, must drop weight before they go on the air. Otherwise, the exec says, the two will be too stereotypically “Fat Antonio” for the hip LA image the network’s hoping to cultivate.
Our heroes discuss dieting over what appears to be La Fonda’s entire lunch menu. (Cleto prays briefly when the food arrives.) Jesús makes a corn-tortilla joke good enough to earn your uncle a courtesy laugh, and the two decide to get serious about losing weight for their network debut. Cue a Woodlawn Lake workout montage that stretches across two commercial breaks and features enough slow-motion jiggly jogging to qualify as pornography for man-boob fetishists.
In other words, it’s two not-particularly interesting buddies screwing around for a half-hour. Judging by the first episode, Cleto and writers/directors the Cevallos Brothers (Nickelodeon’s The Brothers Garcia) are still trying to figure out how to fill their time slot. Though Cleto’s sweating to keep it, the talk show within the show never materializes, except for the few-second snippet in the network office. Cleto never interviews anybody (though the short webisodes at cletoshow.com prove he’s an adequate chit-chatter), and the only “guest stars” are Los Lobos, who perform “La Bamba” at Austin’s One World Theatre in an obviously repurposed video clip.
But the first episodes of shows are pretty much always directionless and unnecessary, and it’s entirely possible Cleto can find a suitable format between now and July 11. Give it a shot. If nothing else, The Cleto Show is the only way for most San Antonio residents to see downtown without paying for parking.
— Jeremy Martin
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