ABC Scores Top Marks in Asian Pacific American Media Coalition’s 2016-17 Report Card

Fresh Off the Boat_Quantico_Dr. Ken_Split - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of ABC

The network receives the group’s highest-ever grade for actors, with 21 regular and 23 recurring AAPIs on prime time.

The Asian Pacific American Media Coalition has released a report card on the status of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders' (AAPI) inclusion on ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC during the 2016-17 season. It last issued such an evaluation in 2012.

ABC, which aired AAPI-toplined series Fresh Off the Boat, Quantico and Dr. Ken, scored the highest overall grade, B, as well as an A- for actors, the highest mark the coalition has ever given in that category. ABC featured 21 regular and 23 recurring AAPI actors on primetime last season. The network also finished first when it came to writers/producers, directors and “commitment to diversity” initiatives.

CBS was a close second, with a B- overall grade and 16 regular and 22 recurring actors of AAPI descent. NBC, which had featured 11 AAPI regular and 24 recurring actors, was third. The coalition counted six Asian American series regulars on Fox, which received “Incomplete” grades across the board because it did not submit its inclusion data. According to the APAMC, the four networks entered into a memorandum of understanding in 2000 with the Multi-Ethnic Media Coalition (which in addition to the APAMC includes the NAACP, the National Latino Media Council and American Indians in Film and Television) that stipulated each network would report its representation numbers. Fox also did not respond to the APAMC’s last call for data, in 2012.

“We are encouraged by the gains in Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders represented in various categories on three networks: ABC, CBS and NBC,” APAMC chair Daniel M. Mayeda said Wednesday in a statement. “This past season and the current 2017-18 season are setting new standards for representation, although there were many missed opportunities for inclusion. We look forward to working with the networks to continue to elevate the presence of Asians and Pacific Islanders in all categories, with a particular emphasis on shows on which we are able to tell our own stories by having leading roles.”

The coalition also had notes for each of the four networks’ current seasons:

ABC: Although the cancellation of Dr. Ken meant the elimination of five AAPI series regulars that were depicted “with relatable lives, struggles and romantic relationships,” the coalition noted that the network would reach a new record high of 24 AAPI regular characters in the 2017-18 season. However, the coalition observed missed opportunities for new dramas The Good Doctor (this season’s biggest broadcast hit, adapted from a South Korean drama and executive produced by Daniel Dae Kim, features just one AAPI regular — Tamlyn Tomita as a hospital administrator — despite that its San Jose setting has a 32 percent AAPI population in real life and one in six doctors in real life is Asian American), For the People (“Shonda Rhimes’ shows rarely feature Asian Americans,” the report stated; none of the eight regulars on the NYC-set legal drama is AAPI) and Deception, which is co-created by illusionist David Kwong but stars a white male in the lead.

CBS: The coalition referenced the high-profile departures of Kim and Grace Park from Hawaii Five-0 in criticizing the series’ tendency to relegate AAPIs — which represent the majority of Hawaii’s real-life population — “to secondary or incidental status.” Noting that the show employed just one AAPI writer and one AAPI director last season, the coalition said it would closely watch how its new AAPI characters will be used: “The APAMC hopes that CBS will take advantage of the commendable fact that with Samoan actors Beulah Koale and Taylor Wily in the cast, the show has the opportunity to tell stories about Pacific Islanders who are otherwise unrepresented in mainstream entertainment.” As with ABC, the coalition pointed out failures to include Asian Americans in shows with settings that are highly-AAPI in real life: Los Angeles-set Me, Myself and I and NCIS: Los Angeles, Silicon Valley-set Wisdom of the Crowd and the medical drama Code Black. On a more positive note, the coalition praised the cancellation of the critically reviled Two Broke Girls, whose Han character was widely criticized as a racial caricature, and the selection of several AAPI scribes in the latest CBS Writers’ Mentoring Program class. CBS All Access’ Star Trek: Discovery also got a shout-out for appointing Michelle Yeoh as the franchise’s first Asian female starship captain.

NBC: The network was commended for having a pair of AAPI regulars on The Good Place, Powerless and Superstore, with the latter comedy featuring a DACA immigrant character. However, the coalition noted that there is only one Asian American regular across all six of Dick Wolf’s dramas (Brian Tee on Chicago Med) and still no AAPIs on Saturday Night Live — although that may change, as NBC has partnered with pioneering Asian American theater organization East West Players for a sketch comedy workshop. The APAMC also is looking forward to the midseason premieres of Rise (starring Moana’s Auli’i Cravalho) and the Mindy Kaling-executive produced Champions, which will have three AAPI regulars. Also in the development pipeline is Sunil Nayar’s drama about a female Sikh law student and Albert Kim’s Empire-meets-Samsung family drama.

Fox: The six AAPI regulars from last season mostly came from series that have now been cancelled: Sleepy Hollow, Bones and New Girl. “Based on our own research, it does not appear that new scripted series featuring Asian Americans took their place,” although the coalition noted the additions of John Cho and Li Jun Li to The Exorcist as well as Hannah Simone and Kal Penn hosting the unscripted shows Kicking and Screaming and Superhuman this season. “At this point we do not know how many AAPIs were given recurring roles in scripted series or are contestants/participants in unscripted shows this season; nor do we have information on the number of Asian American writers/producers or directors there were last season or are likely to be employed this season,” said the APAMC report. “We look forward to Fox getting back on track in working with the coalition to discuss their data and how we can advance our mutual diversity goals.”