Concerned with the slow progress of TV networks in the area of diversity casting, the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition (APAMC) has released its 2011 report cards grading the networks’ past 2010-2011 season while simultaneously challenging ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC to cast at least one Asian Pacific American actor as the main star in a TV show within the next three years.
“Since APAMC began meeting with the networks in late 1999, only two new shows have starred Asian Pacific Americans,” said co-chairs Guy Aoki and Marilyn Tokuda in a coalition statement, “‘Cashmere Mafia’ with Lucy Liu and ‘Dance War: Bruno vs. Carrie Ann (Inaba),’ both on ABC. We believe that, without a timetable, the networks will never confront the perceived obstacles to using APAs as the faces of their series.
“So we have issued a challenge that within three years — by the fall of 2014 — they air a series which stars at least one APA clearly cast as the central character (the star’s name usually appears first in the credits when they aren’t listed alphabetically).”
For example, the star of NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” is Amy Poehler, not Aziz Ansari.
The coalition challenge included a further condition: “Because many actors are part-Asian Pacific and viewers are unaware of what their heritage is, we always encourage the networks to make it clear within the context of their shows that the character is Asian Pacific. However, if all we end up getting are stars who are part-APA but don’t look it and who don’t play recognizably APA roles, then the goal of more meaningful inclusion will not have been reached.”
Last year, the total number of APA regulars among the top four networks jumped from 32 to 38 — an all-time high. This past season, that number dropped to 31.
Overall, NBC, with a B (up from a B-), ranked highest in this year’s APAMC report cards, which marks the 10th anniversary of judging the inclusion of APAs in eight categories: actors, unscripted show participants, writers/producers, directors, development, procurement, executives, and network initiatives.
No other network has ever received this high a grade from the coalition. Out of 12 report cards since 2000, NBC has received the highest overall grade eight times (five of them ties with other networks). This past season, the Peacock Network also had the highest grade for actors, development deals, and writers/producers, and tied for top honors in procurement, executives, and diversity initiatives.
CBS maintained a B- for the third year. ABC slid from B- to C+. Fox fell from C+ to C-, the worst network grade since CBS received the same rating in 2005.
“Last season, NBC had 13 regulars of Asian Pacific descent, boosted by five regulars on ‘Outsourced,’” Aoki stated. “This was the highest number any network has been able to achieve in the 11 years the coalition has released report cards. Accordingly, we have issued our highest grade in the actors category ever, a B+. NBC is the only network to receive this high a grade, which they also received in 2004.”
According to the APAMC report, between 2006 and 2008, ABC either had the highest number of APA regulars or tied for that distinction. But ABC’s record has declined noticeably since then. This past season, ABC could claim only five regulars and four recurring characters, its exact numbers in 2005. Of all four networks, ABC received the lowest grade in the actors category, a D+.
The day after the new “Hawaii Five-0” debuted in September 2010, the APAMC encouraged CBS to hire writers and actors from Hawaii in order to truly capture the essence of the people of that state.
“We have been disappointed that most of the APAs used are as suspects or villains and increasingly, most of the guest stars — who often get more screen time than regulars Daniel Dae Kim, Grace Park and Masi Oka — are white and from the mainland,” Aoki said. A meeting with CBS has been set for next week to address these concerns.
ABC scored best in the unscripted series category for the fourth consecutive year. Since 2008, the network has featured APAs in many of its unscripted series, including Carrie Ann Inaba as a judge on “Dancing With the Stars.”
CBS made the biggest improvement in reality shows, jumping from a C- to a B- for its profiles of two Asian American CEOs in “Undercover Boss” and many contestants on “The Amazing Race” and “Live to Dance.”
“The networks have always struggled with using APA directors on their shows,” said coalition co-chair Tokuda, reporting that Fox had the highest number (11) of APAs directing a total of 28 episodes. Except for one episode of “Traffic Light,” however, all of those shows were animated. Still, Fox earned the biggest grade improvement in any category this past season, jumping from a D- to a B-.
However, Fox had no development deals with APAs, receiving an F in that category, as well as an F/Incomplete for its failure to report verified procurement data (it has promised to provide this in the near future). The network also received the lowest grade for diversity initiatives (C-), as the head of the diversity department left in October of last year and the entire team was eventually dismantled.
Fox is now taking a different approach with its “Audience Strategy” department, and the coalition looks forward to seeing whether Fox’s promising new diversity initiatives bear more fruit at the network than have past efforts.
The coalition singled out CBS President Nina Tassler, praising her for convening a second meeting with her show runners and the APAMC to discuss ways to include more people of color (POC) in their series.
In the 2011-2012 season, CBS will have at least 10 APA regulars, the highest in its history. Unfortunately, said the coalition, this includes the heavy-accented restaurant owner played by Matthew Moy in “2 Broke Girls,” which many in the community feel sets back the cause.
Fox’s numbers also look better for this new season with the inclusion of three Asian Indian/half-Asian Indian regulars as part of the main family on “Terra Nova.” Also, the network once again includes an Asian American doctor — played by Charlyne Yi — in “House.”
Despite losing five regulars on the now-cancelled “Outsourced,” NBC only slipped from 13 to 12 as it included seven new APA regulars on seven new series.
Although the road to reflecting reality has been an ongoing challenge, since the 1999/2000 meetings, the networks have implemented many initiatives to increase the presence of POC before and behind the camera. Although the programs do not guarantee employment, they provide access and a means to getting a foot in the door in areas where POC have historically been denied.
APAs have gained ground as writers, with some elevated to producers, co-producers and executive producers on such series as “ER,” “Lost,” “NCIS: Los Angeles,” “Prison Break,” “Law & Order: SVU,” “Bones,” “Medium,” “The Walking Dead” and “Body of Proof.”
“For actors,” Tokuda stated, “winning a place in the network showcases is like harnessing the brass ring. The exposure can lead to solid agency representation, multiple auditions and, in some cases, an ongoing mentorship with casting executives. People like Carrie Ann Inaba (‘Dancing with the Stars’) and Liza Lapira (‘21,’ ‘Traffic Light’) were discovered in the showcases.”
Graduates of directors programs have gone on to direct shows like NBC’s “Community” and the Julia Roberts film “Fireflies in the Garden.”
APAMC members include such organizations as East West Players, Japanese American Citizens League, Media Action Network for Asian Americans, National Federation of Filipino American Associations, and Visual Communications.