LOS ANGELES – In the 12 years the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition (APAMC) has issued report cards grading the top four television networks on their efforts to include Asian Pacific Americans in their programming and business dealings, no company has received an F-until now.
Fox failed to provide the data the APAMC has consistently requested and which the other networks-ABC, CBS, and NBC-have delivered for over a decade. As a result, for the 2011-2012 season, the Coalition had no choice but to give the network a grade of F/Incomplete–the worst grade ever given to any network in the history of the report cards. APAMC Co-Chair Marilyn Tokuda remarked, “This is especially disappointing because Fox had some very positive stories to tell about its diversity initiatives under its new Audience Strategies department.” Added co-chair Guy Aoki, “We require each network to provide the same information every year on a timely basis so we can evaluate them fairly and evenly compared to other networks and to their own past performance. Since Fox did not give us the necessary data, we cannot give them any credit.”
Ironically, the only network to meet the coalition’s challenge from last year to cast at least one Asian Pacific American actor as the main star of a TV show by Fall 2014 was Fox. “The Mindy Project,” created by and starring Indian American actress Mindy Kaling, began airing in September. It emerged from a diverse writers initiative at NBC and is produced by Universal Television, the television studio/production unit affiliated with NBC. The Coalition looks forward to seeing if “The Mindy Project” will flesh out the lead character’s background and provide viewers the opportunity to see her family and learn more about her heritage.
“The APAMC began meeting with the major television networks in late 1999 and early 2000 to press for greater diversity for severely underrepresented Asian Pacific Americans (APAs),” said co-chairs Guy Aoki and Marilyn Tokuda in a Coalition statement. “Since then, there have been incremental increases in the number of APA actors, writers, producers, directors and network executives at all four of the networks. But in the 2011-2012 season, the numbers have somewhat stagnated,” they said.
Overall, NBC, with a B- (down one notch from last year’s B), again ranked highest overall in this year’s APAMC report card, which marks the 11th anniversary of judging the inclusion of APAs in eight categories: actors, unscripted (reality) show participants, writers/producers, directors, development, procurement, executives, and network initiatives.
Out of 12 report cards since 2001, NBC has received the highest overall grade 8 times (3 of them ties with other networks). This past season, the peacock network also had the highest grade for actors, directors, development deals, and executives, and tied for top honors in reality participants, writers/producers and diversity initiatives. But for scripted shows, NBC went from 13 regular and 16 recurring roles for APAs in 2010-2011, to 13 regular and only 8 recurring roles in 2011-2012. Unfortunately, we are expecting the number of APA regulars for this current season to drop to just 8.
The coalition is concerned that both NBC and CBS fell a full grade (from A to B) for procurement from APA-owned businesses.
Overall, CBS slid from a B- to a C+. It made a significant leap in actors from 6 regulars; 25 recurring to 10 regulars; 21 recurring-an all-time high for the network. Although Masi Oka was added to the opening credits of “Hawaii Five-O,” he and fellow regular Grace Park (and possibly Daniel Dae Kim) got less screen time than unofficial regular Lauren German. And despite the coalition’s repeatedly expressed concerns, the show has continued to cast APAs mostly as suspects or villains, and most of the guest stars (including cops, sympathetic victims and their families) are white and from the mainland.
CBS also continues to be dragged down in this category by the problematic Han Lee character in the sitcom “Two Broke Girls.” Despite promises that the character would be “dimensionalized” over time, Lee continues to be the recipient of emasculating, racially-tinged put downs (“a well-behaved boy,” “a woman”). As a result, CBS’s actors grade rose from a C to just a C+.
However, CBS continued to tie with NBC for the top grade of A- for network commitment to the diversity initiatives. In August, CBS sent creative executives to Hawaii to conduct casting and workshop sessions with local actors to try to develop them so they could be used on “Five-O,” which would truly capture the essence of the people of the 50th state. And for the second year, CBS President Nina Tassler hosted a meeting with the heads of the multi-ethnic coalitions and writers/producers of the network’s shows to discuss how they can better include people of color (POC) in their programming.
ABC maintained an overall grade of C+. The alphabet network did improve slightly in the categories of actors (from D+ to C-) and directors (C- to C), and tied with NBC for highest grade in reality participants and writers/producers (both B-). ABC also had the highest score (a B+) among the networks for procurement. But since the diversity-filled series “Lost” ended its run, ABC has continued to lag behind the other networks in APA actors in regular roles in prime time. Also alarming, they fell a full grade (B- to C-) in development deals with APA writers/producers.
The number of APA unscripted series participants fell for both ABC and CBS. Last season, ABC had no APAs on “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” CBS has been unable to replicate the success in 2010-2011 of profiling two Asian American CEOs in “Undercover Boss” but did continue to feature APA contestants on shows like “The Amazing Race.” NBC has struggled to find APA contestants for “The Biggest Loser.” The networks have had more success in bringing in APA participants in singing- and dance-oriented competitions.
Despite the existence of various director shadowing and mentorship programs, the number of APA directors working on networks series continues to increase at an ever-so-slow pace. Notably, ABC utilized one more APA director and increased the total number of episodes directed by APAs from 5 to 11. NBC doubled their number of different APA directors (3 to 6), but they directed a total of only 10 episodes, down from 13 the year before.
Since the initial 1999/2000 meetings, the networks have implemented many initiatives to increase the presence of POC in front of and behind the camera. These include programs to train writers, to fund diverse staff writers on successful series, to facilitate relationships between diverse directors and established directors and show runners, to train casting executives, and to provide showcases for minority actors, writers and directors to display their talent to the creative community.
APAs have gained ground as writers, with many elevated to producers, co-producers and executive producers on series like “ER,” “Lost,” “NCIS: Los Angeles,” “Law & Order: SVU,” “Bones,” “The Walking Dead,” “Desperate Housewives,” “The Office,” and “30 Rock.” The challenge now is for APA writers who have become somewhat established to feel free to write about their own backgrounds and ethnic identities, such as creating a series based on an APA family or portraying the full complexity of an APA character.
The Coalition applauds the new CBS series “Elementary,” which stars Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Liu as Dr. Joan Watson. Although Liu is not the first name listed in the credits for the show, her role is indeed central to the show’s plot. The Coalition hopes that in future episodes, her character will be given an opportunity to reveal her background as an APA.
The APAMC renews its challenge for CBS, ABC and NBC to air a series that stars an APA actor (like “The Mindy Project”) within the next two seasons. Doing so will not only increase opportunities for APA actors and provide potential new story ideas for writers to explore, but it should also prove to be smart business-for attracting more of an increasingly diverse audience will be a necessity for the networks to succeed in the future.