Between 2001-2012 and 2017-2020, the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition (APAMC) — which has met with the presidents and vice presidents of ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox since 1999/2000 — has issued grades on various categories to assess the networks’ progress in including Asian Pacific Islanders (APIs) in their programming.
In April, after 22 years, member organizations voted to dissolve the APAMC. But the coalition gave co-founding group Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA) — which urged the coalition to reinstate the report cards with the 2016-2017 season — its blessing for MANAA to issue its own report card and to continue meeting with the networks.
Unfortunately, two networks (ABC and CBS) had overall grades that were their worst in eight years.
In 1999 and 2000, the four major networks signed Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) with members of the national Multi-Ethnic Media Coalition (MEMC), composed of the NAACP, the National Latino Media Council, American Indians in Film/TV, and the APAMC. Out of this agreement came the many writer, director and actor pipeline programs and the formation of the diversity departments to oversee them.
The last meeting the APAMC had with ABC, CBS and NBC creative execs was in November 2019 (the Fox meeting took place in 2013). Yet in November 2020, ABC notified the various ethnic coalitions that they would no longer be allowed to meet on an annual basis with their creative executives (president, VPs of drama, comedy, reality, casting, etc.); they would have to settle for quarterly updates with their diversity department.
Since writing to the heads of ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox in early May of MANAA’s intention to continue meetings with them, none have yet agreed to ongoing annual meetings, with ABC reasserting its stance from November. And ABC and CBS have refused to provide better information for the issuing of the report card.
“With hate crimes against Asian Americans being perhaps the highest since the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, people are afraid to go out,” says MANAA President Robert Chan. “On a daily basis, we hear of Asians being beaten on the streets for no reason other than their ethnicity. People in our community are telling us how important it is for us to re-engage with the networks because it’s even more crucial to have them commit to creating TV series which humanize Asian/Pacific Islanders and make them relatable to viewers, to show how much in common we have with everyone so that we’re not so easily made targets whenever there are frictions between the United States and Asian countries. Yet the last meetings we had with the networks were in October 2019 and Fox’s creative execs have refused to meet with the coalition since 2013.”
“Following the murder of George Floyd last May,” says MANAA Founding President Guy Aoki, “many corporations escalated efforts to help African Americans. Media companies that had previously rejected using quotas suddenly began to implement them, realizing letting things happen ‘organically’ was not working. CBS, who’d always told us it didn’t want to use quotas as a benchmark for hiring people of color (POC), now say that for the 2021-2022 season, it is aiming to have at least 25% of their script development budget dedicated to POC creators and for the writers room of all of their shows to be at least 40% POC, increasing to 50% for the 2022-2023 season.
“The networks, streaming services and movie studios have made more sincere efforts to develop projects written, produced, directed by and starring African Americans so that everyone can learn what it is to be in their shoes. In the hopes that we can become a better country.
“Increased violence against Asian Americans has gone on for over a year since the COVID-19 shutdown. The networks, streaming services, and movie studios must commit to amplifying the Asian American voice so our fellow citizens understand that we too have had a history of struggle, that we have faced a different kind of racism for centuries.”
Besides being one of the original five organizations to sign the MOUs with the networks, MANAA has historically been the most active of the APAMC organizations with more members attending network meetings over the years than all the other groups combined. Some highlights of MANAA’s impact on the networks:
• In 2007, Aoki convinced CBS President Nina Tassler to host meetings with the writers and producers of her TV series and the APAMC — and later, the heads of the Multi-Ethnic Coalition — to discuss ways of incorporating people of color into their existing shows and creating new ones. This historic event became an annual one.
• In the fall of 2011, as co-chair of the APAMC, Aoki issued a challenge to the networks to air a show that starred an Asian American (first name in the credits) within three years. Fox’s “The Mindy Project” starring Indian American Mindy Kaling became a series one year later. “Stalker” (Maggie Q) and “Fresh Off the Boat” followed.
• Because Aoki asserted CBS wasn’t including enough local Asian Pacific Islanders in its rebooted “Hawaii Five-0” series, in 2012, the network flew over casting executives to Honolulu to sponsor a mixer and actors’ workshop to find new talent.
• In 2013, MANAA made headlines by asking Fox to reshoot scenes of its upcoming sitcom “Dads” that the press had agreed were racist toward Asians.
• In March, 18 years after MANAA first asked NBC and Jay Leno for an apology for making jokes about Koreans eating dogs and Chinese restaurants serving cats in his “Tonight Show” monologues, Leno issued a joint press release with MANAA apologizing for the damage his stereotyped jokes caused and pledging to work to help the Asian American community.
Report Card for Networks 2019-2020 Season
This report card surveys the 2019-2020 season, which began in September 2019 and ended in May 2020. Shortly before that, the pandemic shut down production and forced some series to end prematurely with a handful of planned episodes delayed to the current 2020-2021 season. However, that did not substantially change the statistics of most of the categories except for Directors (who got to shoot a few less episodes) and Development (only one pilot was shot in time for consideration to become a series for the 2020-2021 season while other projects were either abandoned or delayed a year).
For the first time since the 2006-2007 season, all four networks have overall grades in the C range. ABC and CBS have their worst grade (C+) since the 2011-2012 season.
ABC scored the highest grades in three of the seven categories: Actors (A-), Writers/Producers (B), Diversity Department Relationship (C-) and tied in two categories with CBS: Directors (B+) and Commitment to Diversity (B+). It had the worst mark in Development (D+).
Fox took top honors for Unscripted (B) and tied with NBC for Development (B). It had the worst grades for Actors (C-), Writers/Producers (C-) and Commitment to Diversity (D+).
CBS tied with ABC for the best Directors (B+) and Commitment to Diversity grades (B+). It got sent to detention for the worst Diversity Department Relationship grade (F).
NBC tied with Fox for best Development grade (B) but got the lowest marks for Unscripted (C-) and Directors (C).
Actors (regulars and recurring on scripted shows) fell from 25 (12.1%) to 20 (10%). This was the last season for “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and “Fresh Off the Boat” (FOTB). Because of the importance of FOTB starring a family of six Asian American regulars through whom we see the world and cheer for their successes, ABC maintains its A- grade for the fourth year in a row.
For the just-ended 2020-2021 season, preliminary statistics indicate there were only 11 API regulars (6.2%), the lowest since the 2011-2012 season. In his last meeting with the network in October 2019, Aoki warned ABC that if both FOTB and SHIELD were cancelled, they’d lose eight regulars, so they needed to make a concerted effort to develop shows that focused on Asian Pacific Islanders.
Apparently, that effort failed: There were no significant API regulars on any of the network’s new shows and MANAA knows of no pilots that were going to feature AAs in a prominent role.
This contrasts with the previous 2018-2019 development season, where the network had two pilots that would have focused on Asian families (Chinese and South Asian) and another that would have starred an Asian American (Harry Shum, Jr. in “Heart of Life”). For Development, ABC takes a hard fall from B+ to D+ (the worst of all the networks).
Writers fell from 25 (8.3%) to 19 (6.2%); Producers also slipped from 20 (7.7%) to 17 (6.5%). There wasn’t even an API producer on “Grey’s Anatomy” (one was hired for the 2020-2021 season), a show that refuses to add a regular API doctor even though there are twice as many Asians living in Seattle than African Americans and certainly more doctors. Because ABC has more writers/producers than any network, it retains its B, the top grade.
Unscripted: Their numbers doubled from 4 (4%) to 7 (8%) but include John Cho making a brief, one-time appearance on the Oscars and Jimmy Kimmel’s guitarist, who never speaks. New show “Holey Moley” featured Jeannie Mai as a correspondent, joining Carrie Ann Inaba, who’s been a judge on “Dancing with the Stars” since 2005. Grade: C- to C.
Directors increased from 15 (7.7%) to 18 (8.9%) while Directed episodes slipped from 36 (7.1%) to 27 (6.9%). The network held onto its B+ grade, the highest of all networks.
Diversity Dept. Relationship: The Creative Talent Development & Inclusion team (CTDI) continues to have quarterly meetings with various API organizations to give them updates on its diversity department’s efforts to increase inclusion at Disney-owned companies. CTDI will expand beyond reporting television data to include various Disney-owned platforms.
But the TV data continues to be a confusing soup with various POC names and series thrown together vs. being separated by race and show for easier understanding. We have repeatedly asked for a better sorting of the information to no avail. ABC also refused to clarify previously provided data. Its B- from last year makes a full grade drop to C-.
Overall grade: C+, its lowest since the 2011-2012 season.
Actors fell from 20 (10%) to 17 (9%), though MANAA regards it as 17 to 14 because we have never accepted three of those APIs — Kimee Balmilero, Dennis Chun and Taylor Wily, who didn’t appear in every episode of “Hawaii-Five-0” and when they did, usually just for 40 seconds to 2 minutes. These “regulars” probably hold the record for least amount of screen time on any television show in history.
“Five-0” showrunner Peter Lenkov was later fired from “Magnum, P.I.” and “MacGyver” for creating a hostile work environment and complaints of racism and sexism.
Katrina Law was added as a new cast member on the final season of “Five-0” as was Levy Tran on “MacGyver,” upped from recurring. This 2019-2020 season suffered from the loss of Lucy Liu, co-star of “Elementary,” and Kunal Nayyar from “The Big Bang Theory.”
Surprisingly, there were only two recurring APIs on “Magnum, P.I.” though Bobby Lee provided comic relief. There were no APIs on any of the NCIS shows (though next season, Vanessa Lachey will star in “NCIS: Hawaii”). There were no regulars on NCIS, NCIS: LA or NCIS: New Orleans and only one recurring actor apiece on the latter two. CBS falls from B- to C+.
2020-2021 season just ended: New regulars include Kal Penn in “Clarice,” Keisha Castle Hughes on “FBI: Most Wanted” and Liza Lapira and Laya Deleon Hayes on “The Equalizer”; Charles Michael Davis was added to “NCIS: New Orleans.” Reggie Lee was promoted from recurring to regular on “All Rise.”
Unscripted: The big fall from 93 (55%) to 13 (12%) is because during the 2018-2019 season the “World’s Best” and “Million Dollar Mile” game shows featured a lot of people from Asia, which the APAMC doesn’t really count, but we gave them some credit for that. For 2019-2020, numbers fell back closer to the 2017-2018 levels (15). Two Asian Americans were represented on two installments of “Survivor” apiece and Julie Chen continued to host “Big Brother,” which also had AA contestants and ran three times a week. Grade: C+ to B-
Writers/Producers: Writers stayed flat at 11 to 11 while Producers fell from 12 to 8. Together, they remained steady: 23 (7%) to 19 (7%). None of the producers were above the co-executive producer level, meaning no APIs in charge of running a show. Disappointingly, there was only one writer/producer and one API writer on the last season of “Five-0” as well as “Magnum, P.I.,” both Hawaii shows. CBS fell from a C+ to C.
The number of unique Directors stayed level at 18 (8%) to 17 (8%) while Directed Episodes fell from 42 to 33 (7%). For the final season of “Five-0,” four API directors handled seven episodes, which is amazing since Lenkov oversaw seasons where they handled none. But “Magnum” only used two directors. CBS retains its B+ grade.
Development: “United States of Al” starring Adhir Kalyan (Pakistani) as an Afghani (non-Asian) became a series. Failed pilots: Hannah Simone starring in “Welcome to Georgia” and Meaghan Rath probably the second credited star in “Jury Duty.” Four out of the seven pilots would’ve featured five API regulars.
Last time, among other shows, CBS developed “Emperor of Malibu,” which would’ve been about an AA family, so the network did better last season. 23.8% of all drama pitches CBS bought were from APIs, which is impressive. 10% of all comedy pitches bought were from APIs, up from 1.1% the previous season.
Since no other network gives us pitches/specs info, it’s difficult to rate CBS higher for their stats; we can only judge them on the pilots/series that featured AAs. The network slips from B to B-.
Commitment to Diversity (pipeline programs): Directing Initiative: one out of four participants were APIs, up to three out of four APIs; Writing Mentoring Program: one out of six were APIs, up to two out of six; Diversity Sketch Comedy Showcase: Six out of 21 were API to seven out of 20 (by comparison, they picked only six African Americans).
The diversity team continued doing outreach to many colleges and found ways to continue that even after COVID hit. Grade: B to B+
Diversity Dept. Relationship: While we appreciate CBS providing data on pitches and spec scripts for Drama and Comedy Development and how many were bought, they often provide only POC numbers and percentages, so we have a difficult time calculating how many were by APIs. There has been absolutely no communication with us on clarifying the data or if we’re going to meet again with them. One of the hardest falls ever from B to F.
Overall grade: B- to C+, their lowest since the 2011-2012 season.
Unlike last year, the Diversity Department failed to provide % data.
Actors: Four (3%) to six; Recurring: four to 16. Returning regulars include Kenneth Choi on “9-1-1” and Krista Marie Yu on “Last Man Standing.” New 2019-2020 shows: “Prodigal Son” with Lou Diamond Phillips and Keiko Agena and the animated “Bless the Harts” with Kumail Nanjiani. Grade: D+ to C-
Unscripted: Reality regulars three (10%) to six because Ken Jeong and Nicole Scherzinger are judges on “The Masked Singer,” which ran twice in the 2019-2020 season. They were also guests on the four-episode limited series “The Masked Singer: After the Mask.”
Reality specials: 0 to 0; Contestants: four (3%) to… not given.
“Masked Singer” continues to be one of the highest-rated shows of all the networks, and TMS: ATM did OK for an after-show to “Masked Singer.” The APAMC gave Fox a C+ for just 10 episodes of TMS (plus someone who was a regular on “So You Think You Can Dance”) when it debuted in the 2018-2019 season. In the 2019-2020 season they aired 30 episodes in two separate installments (or “seasons”). So Jeong’s and Scherzinger’s presence was multiplied almost three times on that show alone. Grade: C+ to B.
Current 2020-2021 season: On top of continuing to serve as a judge on “The Masked Singer,” Jeong hosted and co-executive produced “I Can See Your Voice,” served as a panelist on “The Masked Dancer” and co-hosted Fox’s “New Year’s Eve Toast & Roast 2021” with Joel McHale.
Writers/Producers: Writers went up from eight (4%) to 11; producers were cut in half from 12 (5%) to six. Total: 20 (but now Fox says it was 16) to 17. There were no API producers on any reality shows. Grade: C+ to C-
Directors: Nine unique directors (Fox previously said 10, 6%) to 13. Directed Episodes: 29 episodes to… not provided. Because most of the directors on the 2018-2019 season worked on the same shows in 2019-2020, we might assume they maintained 29 episodes or went even higher but we don’t know. Grade: B again.
Development: “The Cleaning Lady” starring Elodie Jung was ordered to pilot in April 2020 but was unable to shoot because of the pandemic until February 2021. It was picked up as a series earlier this month. Created and executive produced by Asian Canadians Miranda Kwok and Shay Mitchell and includes Ginger Gonzaga in the cast.
“Pivoting” was ordered to pilot in February 2020 but because of the pandemic not greenlit as a series until May 2021. It co-stars Maggie Q as one of the three leading ladies.
The animated series “Housebroken” was also developed during the ’19-20 season and will begin airing later this month. It includes Greta Lee as one of the voice-over talents. Grade: F/Incomplete to B (tied with NBC for best grade in this category).
Commitment to Diversity: “Fastrack,” a non-scripted associate producer Initiative picks two or three candidates to become associate producers on unscripted shows. Grade: D+ again.
Diversity Dept. Relationship: They have expressed a willingness to meet and to answer questions about data and provide missing information but wait until the very last minute to even try and fall short in supplying what was asked for months ago. Grade: C- to D
Overall Grade: C- again.
Actors: 12 (7.5%) up to 15 (9.3%). This was the season “Sunnyside” debuted with five Asian regulars including Kal Penn as star and creator (but it was the first cancellation of any show on any network and was booted to nbc.com after four episodes). There were new AA regulars on “Council of Dads” and “Perfect Harmony,” joining two AAs on “The Good Place.” All of these shows were cancelled that season. There were three APIs on “Superstore” (with Kaliko Kauahi elevated from recurring status), which ended in the 2020-2021 season. Grade: C+ to B-
2020-2021 season just ended highlights: “Young Rock” starring The Rock, created by executive producer Nahnatchka Khan — who created “Fresh Off the Boat” — and Jeff Chiang, who also worked on the show. It’s terrific becaus we rarely get to see Pacific Islanders (PIs) in regular roles. PIs play the star’s mother, grandmother and younger self in flashbacks. There are also multiple AA writers working on the comedy.
NBC upped two AA recurring characters to cast members on “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist,” which previously had no Asian American regulars — strange for a show taking place at a high-tech firm in San Francisco.
Daniel Dae Kim had a strong recurring role as the confident Dr. Cassian Shin in “New Amsterdam,” who was introduced in the 2019-2020 season before the pandemic shut down production. Hamza Haq (Pakistani) starred in the Canadian import “Transplant,” though playing a Syrian doctor.
Reality Main Cast: Four (3.1%) to six (4.9%). While The Rock continues to host “Titan Games,” other APIs usually made just one or two appearances on competition shows. There are still no APIs on “Hollywood Game Night.” And there were no API judges on “The Voice,” “America’s Got Talent” or “World of Dance.” NBC still refuses to collect data on the number of API contestants on any competition series. Grade: D+ to C-
Writer/producers: 12 (3.8%) to 17 (5.1%); Writers doubled from 4 to 8 while Producers shot up from 8 to 14. The number of producers (more important/powerful than writers) jumped in part because Penn was an executive producer on “Sunnyside” and two others were co-exec producers. Overall, though, the percentage of either remains low. Grade: C to C+
Directors: 14 (5.9%) to 11 (5%); actually 10 unique directors down to nine unique directors; number of episodes directed fell from 16 (4.6%) to 11 (3.4%). Grade: C+ to C.
“Young Rock” (at least four PI regulars; new series for 2020-2021 season), failed pilots: “Echo” would’ve featured an Indian woman as the second credited star and “Crazy for You” might’ve had Alice Lee (“Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist”) placed second as well.
Last year, the APAMC knew of only one (failed) pilot that would’ve starred an AA. The importance of featuring Pacific Islanders in the cast of “Young Rock” leads to an improvement from C- to B (tying Fox for highest development grade).
Commitment to Diversity: It can be argued that NBC has the best and most far-reaching kinds of pipeline programs including late-night writers and sketch comedy showcases. But the APAMC and MANAA have graded them on how many APIs participate in them. This information used to be provided to the APAMC before the annual meetings with the creative execs. As time went on, they were only provided to us at the meeting (giving us no time to assess it). Then they reported on only some of the programs. We can only piece together numbers on six of the 12 known pipeline programs and because the Diversity Department continues to stonewall us, its grade slips from C+ to C.
Diversity Dept. Relationship: The Diversity Department is the only one that still refuses to respect the definition of “recurring actors” as those making three to six appearances in a given series and not two to six, so we keep receiving inflated data. When asked for missing data, they responded late and offered links to some 50 articles for us to read to try to figure it out. Grade: C+ to D.
Overall grade: C again.
Current 2020-2021 season:
There’s a troubling trend: Preliminary data indicates that the number/percentage of API regulars for the current 2020-2021 season dropped from 20 (10%) to 11 (6.2%) for ABC (the worst since the 2011-2012 season) and 14 to 13 (7%) for CBS; these networks have had the highest Actors grades in the last four report cards. Although this could be due in part to a shortened/delayed television season because Hollywood was unable to shoot new episodes for a while, that affects the number of episodes produced, not whom the networks chose to star or appear in their series.
Especially in light of the alarming rise in hate incidents again Asian Americans since March 2020, the networks need to recommit themselves to improving the number and percentage of APIs on screen.