April 7, 2015

SCA Gets “Fresh Off the Boat”

Television Symposium Welcomes Hit Show

Professor Howard Rosenberg, Nahnatchka Khan, Melvin Mar and
Sanjay Shah

In 2015, television has undergone a renaissance in diversity. With hit shows Empire and alum Shonda Rhimes’ personal television empire of Scandal, Revenge, Grey’s Anatomy, andHow to Get Away with Murder, diversity is on the rise in television and Trojans are at the forefront. Fresh Off the Boat, a show run by alum Nahnatchka Khan is the first comedy on a broadcast network to feature a predominantly Asian cast in two decades. On April 6th, Howard Rosenberg’s Television Symposium course hosted Khan, writer Melvin Mar, and writer Sanjay Shah. The Q&A was moderated by Howard Rosenberg and was preceded by a screening of Margaret Cho’s All American Girl, Black-ish, and two episodes of Fresh Off the Boat.

Rosenberg opened by asking Khan if she felt a need to aim for “more than laughs” when dealing with network comedy. Khan replied, “If you're laughing, then something is resonating with you. I guess in a way what we're going for is relatability. That's the only message."

Fresh Off the Boat is an ABC sitcom based on Chef Eddie Huang’s memoir of the same name. The show stars Constance Wu and Randall Park and is executive produced by Khan.

When discussing the difficulties of authorship in adapting a memoir, Khan pointed out that she and her staff have a sense of authorship as Huang’s memoir covers thirty years of his life while the sitcom focuses exclusively on his elementary school years. “It’s a testament to the characters and the actors that they can have a life of their own,” said Khan.

Mar told Rosenberg that he didn’t considerFresh Off the Boat to be particularly revolutionary from an insider’s perspective, but that all of the pieces fell into place for the show. “People have tried to develop things like this for a long time,” said Mar. “I've read everything that Asian Americans have come to me with and this is the first time everything came together.”

Mar attributes the success to a perfect storm including Huang’s source material being a best seller, the rise of Randall Park as an actor on Veep, and Khan being a competent showrunner after Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23.

Shah agreed with the sentiment. “To me it was surprising the people were surprised. It's been working on cable for years -- BET, Univision -- It was a matter of time before someone took a risk on diverse voices.”

Fresh Off the Boat airs on ABC on Tuesdays.