'Rush Hour' Team Talks Stereotypes, Moving Beyond Movie

"We can't do the movie over and over for five years," exec producer Bill Lawrence told reporters about how the series will set itself apart from the popular trilogy.
Neil Jacobs/CBS

CBS' upcoming TV adaptation of Rush Hour will bring an impressive amount of diversity to the network's slate. However, the freshman action-comedy still faced tough questions on Tuesday at the Television Critics Association's winter press tour.

The series' cast and executive producers Bill Lawrence, Black McCormick and Steve Franks were asked by a reporter specifically about the "long-standing stereotypes" exhibited on the show and borrowed from the 1998 movie of the same name.

Justin Hires, who plays the role originated by Chris Tucker, defended the series.

"I am African-American. I am a comedian. I crack jokes. So it's not just that it’s a stereotype. This is the reality of who I am as a person," he said. "I do not think we are showing negative stereotypes at all on this show. I think we are showing truth about what America is and who we are, and I think a part of that is showing diversity."

Lawrence was quick to speak up when the question was redirected at the executive producers. "Were it to play those tropes week in and week out, I'd think that you'd probably have a problem. Not only because it would offend people like yourself, but because the audience wouldn’t respond to it," he said. "You all know that shows change after the pilot."

Lawrence said future episodes of Rush Hour will also expand upon the characters introduced in the pilot in a bid to differentiate itself from the popular film franchise that spawned three pics. "We can't do the movie over and over for five years," he said, noting that John Foo's character, originated by Jackie Chan in the films, will become "lighter" and "funnier" as time goes on.

"I think it’s a valid question, because were we to repeat the pilot week in, week out … I think the show would fail," continued Lawrence. "I'm pretty proud of the trajectory it does and I expect this show to be on next year because I'm pretty confident about it. I welcome you to comment and ask about the same stuff because we'll see how it goes."

Another way the series will diverge from the films is, according to the executive producers, shifting the focus away from Foo's character's struggle to adapt to Los Angeles and more towards how his and Hires' characters will work together despite their many differences.

"You can play fish-out-of-water for awhile, but I think that it will kind of run thin even after one season," said Lawrence. "We certainly played it, but we played it from both sides a little bit more than they did. The first movie played completely Jackie Chan's character just being a fish out of water, and what we wanted to do is make sure that Justin's character also didn’t culturally understand not only the type of person that Lee [Foo's character] was but his attitude towards law enforcement and his seriousness and his code. Its one of the things that we drag through."

Added McCormick: "That's also one reason we got more into the personality conflict than the fish-out-of-water thing. Seeing these guys, how they grew together as performers and as characters, it was really fun to see them come together and it just became about two guys who really care about each other, they just have different ways of doing things. That's really fueled a lot of the show."

Although Lawrence & Co. aren't shying away from the show's ties to the original films, they're hopeful the Rush Hour series will eventually come to stand on its own. "It is a risky role of the dice because if it's an iconic movie that people like, you can't knock fans off of it, but I think what you hope is that a title brings people to check out your show and give it a look," said Lawrence. "I still want to believe that if you cast it well and write it well and act it well and produce it well, that people will stay after that, long after the references to the feature are gone."

Rush Hour premieres Thursday, March 31, at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.