It’s mid-May, that time of the year when the television networks go to New York to officially announce the new shows they’ve decided to pick up for the upcoming season and which ones (if they hadn’t already made it official) they’ve decided to cancel. The dust is still settling, not all of the new programs have trailers or full cast lists, but the following is known (the names of each show’s Asian regulars appear in parenthesis).
Renewed: “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D” (Ming-Na Wen, Chloe Bennet), “Fresh Off the Boat” (Randall Park, Constance Wu, Hudson Yang, Forrest Wheeler, Ian Chen, Lucile Soong), “Dr. Ken” (Ken Jeong, Suzy Nakamura, Albert Tsai, Krista Marie Yu), “Mistresses” (Yunjin Kim), “Modern Family” (Aubrey Anderson-Emmons), “Quantico“ (Priyanka Chopra), and “The Catch” (Jay Hayden).
Cancelled: “Galavant” (Karen David) and “Of Kings and Prophets” (Simone Kessell and James Floyd).
New: “Designated Survivor” starring Keifer Sutherland as a low-level cabinet member who’s elevated to president after the president, vice president, and every member of Congress is killed (what?!) in a terrorist explosion. Maggie Q plays an FBI agent investigating the attack and Kal Penn is a White House staffer who tells Sutherland he’s in over his head and should quit. It’s good to see two well-known Asian American actors — who’ve been regulars on many past shows — on this series, as it’s received the most buzz of any of the Alphabet Network’s new offerings.
On “American Housewife,” Ali Wong (who’ll probably have to give up her job as a staff writer on “Fresh Off the Boat”) plays one of the title character’s two best friends. And although “Notorious” co-star Daniel Sunjata’s last name sounds Asian Indian, he’s actually black and white.
The Hollywood Reporter noted that one of the five network pilots surprisingly not granted series status was “Jury,” which would’ve starred “The Good Wife’s” Archie Panjabi as one of 12 jurors (each week, we would’ve seen the case from the perspective of one of them). However, it’s being redeveloped, meaning it could still be a contender for mid-season or next season.
Renewed: “Superstore” (Nico Santos and Nichole Bloom), “Grimm” (Reggie Lee), and “Chicago Med” (Brian Tee).
Cancelled: “Truth Be Told” (Vanessa Lachey), “Heartbeat” (Shelly Conn, Maya Erksine), “Heroes Reborn” (Kiki Sukezane), and “Mysteries of Laura” (Janina Gavankar).
At this point, the fate of “Night Shift” (Ken Leung and Jeananne Goossen — who’s got two of the most impossible first and last names to spell) is not clear; it was supposed to be a mid-season replacement, but as often has been the case with Peacock shows, it never showed up at all this year!
New: “Powerless” starring Vanessa Hudgens and featuring Danny Pudi as ordinary people who work for an insurance company in a world full of superheroes and villains.
Renewed: “Elementary” (Lucy Liu), “Hawaii Five-O” (Daniel Dae Kim, Grace Park, Masi Oka), “Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders” (Daniel Henney), “The Big Bang Theory” (Kunal Nayyar), “2 Broke Girls” (Matthew Moy), “Madame Secretary” (Geoffrey Arend), “Scorpion” (Jadyn Wong), and “Code Black” (Raza Jaffrey and Melanie Kannokada).
Cancelled: “Rush Hour” (John Foo) and “CSI: Cyber” (Hayley Kiyoko, though I never saw her in any of the trailers, so who really cares?).
New: “Pure Genius,” a Silicon Valley medical show, includes Brenda Song and Reshma Shetty.
Renewed: “Bones” (Michaela Conlin, last season) and “New Girl” (Hannah Simone).
Cancelled: “Cooper Barrett’s Guide to Surviving Life” (Megan Rath), “Second Chance” (Dilshad Vadsaria and Adhir Kalyan), and “Minority Report” (Li Jun Li).
Overall impression: ABC continues to be “the network for Asian Americans,” NBC may finally have become the last network to join the “Asian Stars Club” (first name in the credits) with “Powerless,” and upon first impression, Fox doesn’t seem to realize Asian Americans exist. Diversity seems to be centered mainly around blacks, with two shows starring and three more co-starring African Americans. And between Fox and ABC, the most common sight among series regulars is a bald black guy with glasses. Go figure.
Whew! Department: The status of one of the shows was keeping me up at nights: “Dr. Ken,” ABC’s second Asian American sitcom. Most pundits agreed it could go either way (depending on what new comedies the network believed in and might want to replace it with) while some thought it was safe. I couldn’t take any chances.
I dissected Nielsen data and, on behalf of Media Action Network For Asian Americans (MANAA), sent an almost three-page letter to new ABC President Channing Dungey making a cultural and statistical case for why it deserved to get another season. I won’t bore you with all the details, but its 18-49-year-old audience (the age group advertisers care most about; therefore, it largely determines which shows get renewed or not) was the best in its Friday 8:30 p.m. time slot in three years. It also held on to most of the audience of its lead-in, “Last Man Standing” starring Tim Allen.
Dungey sent me two nice emails acknowledging she’d received my two emails (the first saying a letter was coming once I got the data, but to please renew “Dr Ken,” the other being the fully researched letter). Although ABC officially announced its 2016-2017 line-up this Tuesday, word leaked out about the fate of many of its existing shows on Thursday, May 12, including confirmation that “Dr. Ken” had made the final cut. It was the best birthday present I could’ve asked for.
Double Whew! Department: This year, Abby Dunn (Julie Benz) became a recurring character on “Hawaii Five-O,” a San Francisco policewoman brought on to observe the team (actually, she was ordered to dig up dirt on them by a superior with a vendetta against them). Weird thing is, until last week’s season finale, she never once held a gun! Abby eventually hooked up with Chin Ho (Daniel Dae Kim).
But with a preview showing her down on her knees about to be executed, I feared she might go the way of Chin Ho’s wife — murdered. Thankfully, she (off camera) overcame her attacker and actually came to the rescue of Grover (Chi McBride). What? She knows how to use a gun?! No way!
Changing Times Department: This past Monday, I got a tweet from a reporter for CCTV America wanting to interview me on camera about the trend of Hollywood whitewashing films (using white actors to play Asian characters) and the #StarringJohnCho movement started by William Yu, who put the actor’s face on movie posters in place of white stars’.
Ooh, there he is starring in “21” (as an Asian American should’ve — not Jim Sturgess — as it was based on a true story of MIT students, mostly Asian American, winning at blackjack and the most skilled was Jeff Ma, a Chinese American). There’s John as an Avenger. There he is playing the romantic lead opposite an attractive white woman. It was Yu’s way of helping Hollywood envision Asian American men as the stars of films. And if people were uncomfortable with it, to start a discussion about why.
You can check out the piece here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y5CWFYGKtVc
My hair was a mess (it always seems to be whenever someone wants to interview me on camera on short notice), so I took a bath, and as I was combing my hair, I got a call from a New York Times reporter wanting to talk about the same subjects (look for it to be the cover story of their Sunday entertainment section on May 29). They’re even sending a photographer to take my picture for it.
It’s so encouraging that especially since last year, the media has understood this white-washing phenomenon. Before, it was difficult for them to grasp MANAA being upset not at what was on camera but what was not. Asian Americans mounting campaigns through social media to pressure and embarrass Hollywood image-makers have definitely had a positive effect on the movement toward more accurate and sensitive ethnic casting.
Last year, Cameron Crowe apologized for casting Emma Stone as a half-Hawaiian/Chinese character in “Aloha.” Ahead of its release (probably a first), the director and studio (Lionsgate) of “Gods of Egypt“ apologized for including mostly European and not actual Middle Eastern actors in its biblical (soon to be) flop.
Even the director of “Dr. Strange,” instead of being defensive, tweeted that he was listening and learning from those upset about him casting Tilda Swinton as “The Ancient One,” an old Tibetan man in the comic books. Hope for the future where directors just get it right before their film’s released?
’Til next time, keep your eyes and ears open.
Guy Aoki, co-founder of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, writes from Glendale. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.