12:20pm PT by Michael O'Connell
Producer Rant Hijacks 'Fresh Off the Boat' Press Conference
Fresh off of a rather incendiary editorial from executive producer Eddie Huang, whose memoir serves as the inspiration for ABC's latest comedy, the production team and cast of Fresh Off the Boat gathered with reporters at the Television Critics Association on Wednesday to plug their new comedy — and do a bit of damage control over Huang airing the dirty laundry of the pilot process.
Huang's New York essay detailed his frustrations with the first episode not capturing his childhood experiences and the pushback he received from producers. He didn't backpedal, per see, but Huang was completely positive about the series, the first Asian-American-fronted broadcast show in 20 years, and its significance. "To be honest, I care the most about the conversation that is going to happen because of the show," he said. "I don't think you've had a stage with this many Asian faces on it in a long time ... ever."
A relatively calm TCA thus far, the panel did get a little contentious as more reporters pushed Huang on his intention with the article — and how it's been digested by his colleagues. "It's important to have a qualified support for the show, that it remains authentic," he said. "I believe the show is very strategic and smart to how it's opening up. Saying 'chink' in the pilot is insane and borderline genius at the same time."
Star Constance Wu tried to distill (and defuse) the internal debates on the series by noting that "progress rises out of conflict." She also politely dismissed one reporter's suggestion that TV's recent rise in racially diverse casting has put Asian-American actors in that much of a better place. "Shows are willing to cast Asians but always in the third or the fourth [on the call sheet]," she said. "I think it's a little bit bold to say it's definitely changed. It's starting to change."
Showrunner Nahnatchka Khan, whom Huang wrote that he initially didn't want to steer the show on account of her lack of Asian heritage, was the most defensive of the producer. (Huang also questioned one reporter's "reading comprehension" for pointing out the passage in which he challenged Khan.)
"I was thrilled when I read the article. … I just found the source material for my next TV project," she joked. "I really value Eddie's voice in the process. The fact that we're here is a historic thing. I really value free speech. He's just coming from a place of wanting to make everything better. … The specifics were different of my growing up, but what I related to was the immigrant experience — being a first-generation American and having parents that weren't born here."
One thing that can be said for Huang's story hijacking the panel is that it certainly took the attention away from star Randall Park. The actor's most recent credit was Sony's shelved-then-released The Interview — in which he plays the ill-fated Kim Jong Un — which prompted such a strong reaction from North Korea.
"Right after the movie came out, everything died down a bit," he said. "I still haven't fully pieced everything together as to what that whole experience meant to me. … I was never nervous for my safety or about getting hacked. It was just crazy to turn on the news and see my face. They'd be talking about Kim Jong Un, but they'd show my face."