'Fresh Off the Boat' Producers: "We Tackle the Word 'Chink' in the Pilot"

Fresh Off the Boat Key Art H 2014

Fresh Off the Boat Key Art H 2014

The ABC comedy, the first Asian-fronted network show in 20 years, aims to win favor with Q&As and screenings for Asian groups.

A version of this story first appeared in the Jan. 23 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Diversity is the watchword of the TV season thanks to ABC hits Black-ish and How to Get Away With Murder and The CW's Golden Globe-winning Jane the Virgin. But no new series addresses ethnicity as aggressively as ABC's comedy Fresh Off the Boat, something producers are hoping won't put them in hot water.

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"We tackle the word ‘chink' in the pilot," says executive producer Melvin Mar. A fish-out-of-water story about a Taiwanese family setting up shop in 1990s Florida based on restaurateur Eddie Huang's best-selling memoir, it is the first Asian-fronted network show since Margaret Cho's All-American Girl in 1994.

And the title has been the source of controversy. Briefly renamed Far East Orlando during development, the 20th TV production has reverted to its original moniker. That temporary title, and production on the pilot, was a source of frustration for Huang — as he detailed in a recent New York essay. "There were a lot of people at 20th and ABC that wanted the original title too," notes showrunner Nahnatchka Khan. "If we were lucky enough to be picked up to series, we just thought we'd re-address it." 

Now producers are getting in front of any reservations among Asian-American audiences by hosting Q&As and screenings for Asian groups — a push they started back in August. Leading up to the show's Feb. 4 debut, there will be a Washington event for Asian-American politicos attended by stars Constance Wu and Randall Park (fresh from his role as Kim Jong Un in The Interview).

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An internal favorite at the network, Fresh Off the Boat is getting one of midseason's bigger marketing pushes — and its premiere night finds it in ABC's auspicious post-Modern Family time slot. On Feb. 10, it assumes the undesirable task of settling into its permanent Tuesday roost of 8 p.m. The night has been a nonstarter for comedies in recent years, particularly where ABC is concerned (see Selfie).

Ultimately, Mar and Khan are hopeful about beating the odds in their time slot and winning the favor of any audience with what they say they've strived to make relatable and a true reflection of the immigrant experience. "I've never called my mother more than in the last six months," adds Mar, who grew up in L.A. with Chinese parents. "We drove to great lengths to make this authentic."