ABC’s sitcom Fresh Off the Boat stirred a “diversity” discussion that also focused on what makes for great TV comedy Thursday night at the KPCC’s Crawford Family Forum.
“It’s not just about diversity, it’s about making a good show,” said executive producer Melvin Mar. “Diversity is just a part of it,” he added.
Is it “a smaller slice of the overall TV pilots that minorities are fighting for?” asked Take Two’s A Martínez, moderator for the panel present to discuss diversity in Prime Time TV.
“Look at the ABC lineup,” answered Mar, “It’s pretty diverse. That’s their thing when it comes to their comedies. I’d like to believe that there isn’t just a small sliver we’re all fighting for. In my experience with the network, they’ve been 110% supportive of the show. We commonly say that ABC just backed us at every turn.”
When it comes to all the shows competing for a slot opening in prime time TV, “What we’re fighting for is just airtime,” said Joz Wang, editor of 8 Asians and founder of V3, “And that’s all shows, not just diverse shows.”
In regards to the competitive world of television, Mar said what matters is, “Finding a thread that everyone can relate to.”
Although Fresh Off the Boat centers on the life of an Asian family of immigrants, “There was something about it that wasn’t just for Asian-American,” said Mar. “It was for everybody and it was through the Asian-American point of view.”
Casting director Angela Hutchinson, who along with Wong and Mar comprised the panel, said that “as a woman and as a mom” she resonated with Jessica Huang’s character, Constance Wu, the mother in the family of immigrants.
“Trying to whip my family into shape and making sure everyone is where they’re suppose to be at a certain time,” said Hutchinson. “I have alarms going off for everything all over the house,” she added.
The key is finding “the outsider experience,” said Mar, “Something everybody could relate to, even if you’re a little white kid who just felt like you’re not a part of the group.”
For audience member Scott Gitlen, the attraction of the show is Constance Wu, who according to him, “Has some very good comic chops. She’s very much like Lucille Ball.”
Whatever the attraction may be, it has to “hit that sweet spot,” said Martínez, who also asked Mar, “When it comes to Fresh off the Boat, do you know off hand the makeup, gender, ethnicity of the staff, of the writers?”
“A lot of effort is put into creating a diverse staff,” said Mar. “The writer’s room is comprised of fifty-fifty, male/female. Three Asian-American writers, two Indian-American, one African-American, and one African-British woman. It’s pretty mixed.”
“Another thing I’m very proud of,” Mar added, “Is the female directing staff. It’s 60% female. It was merit-based, but I guess I know a lot of great female directors.”
To see the panel conversation in full, watch the KPCC vide online at http://livestream.com/kpcclive/Race-comedy-and-prime-time-TV/videos/99559692