El Chapulín Colorado, El Chavo & Chespirito

"Cervantes escribio El Quijote como una crítica a las novelas de caballería y, salvando las distancias, yo hice el Chapulín como el antihéroe latinoamericano en repuesta a los Batmanes y Supermanes que nos invadían desde el norte."  Roberto Gómez Bolaños

El Chavo

From 1970 to 1995, Roberto Gómez Bolaños recorded more than 1,250 episodes of the television programs El Chapulín Colorado, El Chavo and Chespirito.  Although Gómez Bolaños retired in 1995 because he felt that he was no longer physically able to perform ("tenía demasiadas arrugas, poca movilidad y no quería parecer grotesco"), these programs have attained an evergreen cult status.  Even The Simpsons contains references to the 'Spanish bee guy'.

According to the 1998 edition of the Pan Latin American Kids Study conducted by Audits & Surveys Worldwide, the viewing statistics among Latin American children ages 7 to 11 years old are as follows.  


% Daily % Almost daily % Occasionally % Less than 
once a month
% Never
El Chapulín Colorado 19% 22% 22% 4% 31%
El Chavo 29% 21% 22% 3% 26%
Chespirito 6% 11% 14% 3% 67%

(Source: Pan Latin American Kids Study 1998, Audits & Surveys Worldwide)

The viewing levels would have been higher if there had been some coordinated efforts to air and market these programs across Latin America.  In the table below, we show the percentages of children who watch these shows on a daily or almost daily basis separately by geographical region.  It is not that the programs have drastically different levels of popularity by country, but the opportunities to see vary greatly because they were being shown only in some places at that time but not in others.  But for older Latin Americans, it can probably be said that they have watched these shows at some point of their lives.

TV Program Argentina Brazil Chile Colombia Mexico Venezuela Balance of
Cen Amer
Balance of
Sou Amer
El Chapulín Colorado 37% 61% 36% 46%   1% 50% 48% 54%
El Chavo 71% 66% 74% 49% 15% 49% 45% 49%
Chespirito   7%   3% 13% 33% 16% 23% 42% 16%

(Source: Pan Latin American Kids Study 1998, Audits & Surveys Worldwide)

Why are these shows so popular today, especially when we are talking about re-runs of pre-1995 productions?  Viewed purely in terms of conventional production values, these production sets are distinctly unimpressive.  Judged aesthetically, the sight of a 60-year-old man playing a boy or a superhero requires suspension of a great deal of disbelief.  Evaluated from the viewpoint of educational values, an educator may be appalled by the  dysfunctional relationships and improper language.  From any of these viewpoints, the popularity of these shows is inexplicable.

Perhaps the answer lies in Gómez Bolaños' own explanation, "I created El Chapulín Colorado as a Latin American anti-hero in reaction to the Batman's and Superman's who invaded us from the north."  These shows fill a Latin American cultural space that is otherwise unoccupied.  First and foremost, they are identifiably and unmistakably Latin American in content and language, and distinctly different from the North American, European and Japanese fare.  And even more amazing is the fact that El Chavo is a highly popular transplant from Mexico to Brazil, where the dubbed program known as Chaves appears on the SBT network.  So the essence of El Chavo is not even simply a linguistic factor.  Another important feature is the dose of 'realism' --- not because these shows depict 'real' life, but because they have adorably quirky characters without the crafted artificiality of the non-Latin American imports.

So how popular are these Gómez Bolaños characters compared to the North American ones that are backed by massive amounts of marketing dollars?  In the table below, we see that El Chavo and El Chapulín Colorado have in fact beaten back Batman and Superman, and are at near parity with Warner Brothers' Bugs Bunny, Turner's The Flintstones and Disney's Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse

Character % One of my favorites / Like a lot
Batman 56%
Bugs Bunny 83%
El Chapulín Colorado 70%
El Chavo 75%
Donald Duck 71%
Flintstones 72%
Mickey Mouse 80%
Superman 57%

                (Source: Pan Latin American Kids Study 1998, Audits & Surveys Worldwide)

When presented with the statement, "American products are better", 41% of all Latin American kids agreed.  Among those who said El Chavo was one of their favorite characters, the agree rate drops to 33%.  Among those who said Donald Duck was one of their favorite characters, the agree rate rises up to 46%.  So these is a certain amount of Latin American chauvinism involved here.

The enduring popularity of these characters is an indication of the legacy of Roberto Gómez Bolaños.  There is no apparent heir in sight even years after his retirement, which is either a tribute to his unique force of character or a lack of imagination and/or courage amongst television programmers today.  While one can imagine the uneasiness when reading a proposal about a homeless orphan who lives in a barrel or watching a television series pilot about an inept and deluded 'superhero' dressed like a red grasshopper with a yellow heart, shouldn't one still consider the immense commercial possibilities that the trailblazing Gómez Bolaños has shown? ¡Siganme, los buenos!

The commercial prospects are not restricted to developing new products.  We can also consider the possibilities of exploiting the existing product lines as well as extending the brands.  On one front, we know that there is a tremendous commercial market in licensing and merchandising.  On another front, we know that popular characters can be reincarnated in cartoons or comics. 


(posted by Roland Soong on 1/30/00)

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