The Asian Pacific American Media Coalition (APAMC) released their annual TV report card, grading the top four television networks for the 2018-2019 season assessing their progress toward diversity and inclusion of Asian Pacific Americans (APAs) onscreen and behind the camera and although there was some progress, it wasn’t enough to make the needle move dramatically. In fact, it barely moved at all.
The report card evaluated the networks on the following categories: acting (regular and recurring), unscripted (hosts and contestants), writer/producers, directors, development, commitment to diversity and diversity department relationship. ABC had an overall grade of B while CBS came in at a B- and NBC scored a C, all on par with their 2017-2018 marks. Fox scored the lowest with a C-, but it is a remarkable increase from the F it received last season.
“Since the APAMC began meeting with the networks in 1999,” said APAMC chair Daniel Mayeda, “we have generally seen an improvement in the various categories (such as Actors, Unscripted, Writers/Producers, Directors). For example, in the 2002-03 season, onscreen representation of APAs was so bad, we gave two networks Fs in the Actors category. As part of the larger Multi-Ethnic Media Coalition (MEMC)–which also includes the NAACP, National Latino Media Council, and American Indians in Film/TV—we pushed the networks to sign Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs), create diversity departments, actors showcases, writers and directors programs, and other pipeline programs.”
On the acting front, ABC and CBS held steady with last season. ABC was at the head of the class with an A- while CBS scored a B-. Fox went from an F to a D+ while NBC ticked up from a C to C+. These all may seem like good numbers, but APAMC feels that the success of Crazy Rich Asians in the summer of 2018 didn’t have much influence on boosting the number of APA-led series on network TV.
ABC had 23 APA regulars on its series which is down from the previous season’s 24, but percentage-wise, they went up among all regulars (10.9% to 11.4%). However, the APA recurring actors was cut almost in half from 27 (7.7%) to 14 (5.7%).
The strongest regular roles were retained from the previous season on Fresh Off The Boat and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. New regular roles included Christina Chang and Will Yun Lee on The Good Doctor and Vir Das on Whiskey Cavalier.
APAMC sheds some light on Shonda Rhimes shows which have been a touchstone for diverse storytelling on ABC. The Coalition have points out to ABC executives that Rhimes’ shows set in Seattle have never reflected that city’s ethnic reality. With Asian Americans comprising 14% of the population, there have been no APA regulars on Grey’s Anatomy or years and only have one recurring actor with Alex Landi. There has been one regular and no recurring APAs on Station 19 and only one regular and one recurring APA actor on the Philly-based How To Get Away With Murder and no APA regulars nor recurring on the NY-based For the People. APAMC feels there are significant missed opportunities that the ABC should utilize in order to give APAs more representation and the series greater authenticity.
The Coalition also points out that ABC had three APA-starring pilots that didn’t get picked up this season that would have improved their grade. This included Jessica Gao and Hannah Simone’s untitled comedies as well as the Heart of Life which set Harry Shum Jr. in the lead. The series was put back into development.
ABC received the highest overall grade for the third year in a row and led with the highest grade in five of the seven categories: Actors (A-; third consecutive year), Commitment to Diversity (A; likewise), Development (B+), Directors (B+; tied with CBS), and Writers/Producers (B).
At CBS’s acting front, regular and recurring actors fell slightly from 21 to 20 regulars (10% to 10%) and 27 to 29 recurring (14% to 11%). The network maintained most of its strongest regular APA roles including Lucy Liu on the Elementary as well as Meaghan Rath on Hawaii Five-0. In addition, Saraj Sahrma was featured on God Friended Me while Tim Kang was on Magnum P.I. CBS tallies 49 combined regular and recurring roles, the most of any other network. Even so, the quality of the roles are not as strong overall as the 37 combined on ABC. APAMC notes that some of the regulars — such as the ones on Hawaii Five-0 are barely seen.
Like ABC, APAMC notes that CBS have missed opportunities — specifically with their NCIS franchise noting that there are no APA regulars on NCIS, NCIS: New Orleans and NCIS: Los Angeles, with the latter being set in an area that is over 15% APA.
CBS also had the Asian American family sitcom pilot, The Emperor of Malibu starring Ken Jeong which did not move forward for the season.
In the other categories, CBS led with Directors (B+; tied with ABC), Diversity Department Relationship (B) and Unscripted (C+; tied with Fox).
NBC saw a tick up from 11 to 12 (6% to 7.7%) when it came to series regulars, largely because of three regular APA cast members of the short-lived series I Feel Bad starring Sarayu Blue. Recurring jumped from 12 to 27, but according to APAMC, these numbers are inflated because the network’s data included actors who appeared in as few as two episodes rather than the proper definition of recurring, which is three to six appearances. There is one APA regular in Chicago Med, but as for the other Dick Wolf shows Chicago Fire, Chicago P.D. and Law & Order SVU there were no APA series regulars.
The good news is that NBC’s The Good Place, Superstore and the aforementioned I Feel Bad featured two or more APA regulars and each of these characters played a significant role in advancing the stories. Grade: C to C+.
As for the rest of the categories, NBC placed last in three of them: Unscripted (D+), Directors (C+) and Writers/Producers (C).
Finally, Fox only delivered four APA regulars (3%) and with none voicing regular characters on their many animation shows. While Fox counted 20 APAs as recurring (8%), this was an inflated number that included actors who did not meet the actual definition of “recurring actor.”
While Fox tied with CBS for best Unscripted grade (C+), the network scored worst in four categories: Development (F/Incomplete information), Commitment to Diversity (D+), Diversity Department Relationship (C-) and the aforementioned Acting category (D+) which marks the network’s lowest grade since the APAMC’s first report card for the 2000-01 season 18 years ago.
The numbers maybe stagnant on the big four networks, APAMC saw that there have been big gains with streamers including Netflix (Master of None, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Ugly Delicious, Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj), Amazon Prime (Man in the High Castle) and Hulu (PEN15). It is the same story for cable channels Comedy Central (Awkwafina is Nora from Queens, Ronny Chieng: International Student), AMC (Into the Badlands, Killing Eve, The Terror: Infamy), Bravo (Family Karma) and Disney Channels (Andi Mack, Mira, Royal Detective).
“While we continue to advocate for the networks to feature more APAs in leading roles, the Coalition applauds the increased inclusion of APAs in other venues,” Mayeda said. “We recognize that many of these programs and films would not have been possible without the training and opportunities created by the networks’ diversity efforts. But the networks themselves need to redouble their efforts to avoid slipping behind their streaming and cable counterparts in representing APAs.”