Imagine having your life on display for all the world to see. Now imagine doing it on purpose. Well, that’s exactly what comedian Cristela Alonzo did with her semi-biographical ABC sitcom, “Cristela.”
Throughout pilot season, “Cristela” was dubbed “the little show that could,” but it almost didn’t have its happy ending. It was sold to ABC (also a parent company of Fusion) last summer with a penalty, but two other multi-camera sitcoms–“The Winklers,” starring Harry Winkler, and Kevin Hart’s “Keep It Together”–both landed pilot orders. Costs were tight, but 20th Century Fox TV executives and production company 21Laps/Adelstein took on the $500,000 penalty nevertheless and shot a full-length pilot for “Cristela.”
“Cristela,” which was originally not even budgeted for a proof-of-concept shoot, was a roaring success with test audiences–scoring higher than Tim Allen’s “Last Man Standing,” Zooey Deschanel’s “New Girl,” and Robin William’s now-cancelled “The Crazy Ones.” So it was no surprise after the successful testing that “Cristela” edged out both “The Winklers” and “Keep It Together” as the only multi-camera comedy picked up by ABC from 20th Century Fox TV.
In an interview with Fusion’s Alicia Menendez co-creator, co-executive producer, writer and star Cristela Alonzo said, “I want to get a t-shirt that says ‘underdog’… it was the Cinderella Story, ‘The Bad News Bears,’ anything you can think of, we were called it and we got it, and I still can’t believe it happened.”
You might recognize the show’s title character: Cristela is in her sixth year of law school, living rent-free with her sister and brother-in-law and hoping to land that elusive internship at a prestigious law firm. Her mother wants her to get a “real” job, her brother-in-law wants her to move out, and Cristela–well, she just wants everyone to stop talking.
Alonzo describes “Cristela” as an homage to older sitcoms like “The Cosby Show” and “Roseanne,” and hopes to connect with an audience based on shared family experiences not necessarily appealing to a strictly Latino audience.
“I got interviewed about a week ago,” she told Menendez. “I told them the premise of the show and then after I finished answering, the woman said ‘Oh you forgot to mention, it’s Latino.’ … Well, if you look at my face, I think you can tell,” Alonzo quipped.
Despite the fact that the show will premiere this fall as a part of ABC’s primetime lineup, the reality has yet to set in for the brains and heart behind “the little show that could.”
“It hasn’t hit me yet,” Alonzo told Menendez. “To me the first thing I thought when I got the show was now I have to work really hard to make sure I do a good job so that I can make something I can be proud of and something people will want to watch.”