The “Fresh Off the Boat” panel during Wednesday’s Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour got off to a very uncomfortable start when a journalist asked an odd question about how often chopsticks will be featured in the new ABC comedy about an Asian-American family.
“I care the most about the conversation that’s going to happen because of this show,” Chef Eddie Huang told the Pasadena, California, crowd of TV media and industry professionals. “This show has a huge place culturally in America. I don’t think you guys have seen a TCA with this many Asian faces on stage in a long time — ever.”
The new network comedy relates Huang’s childhood experience of moving to Orlando, Florida, in the 1990s with his first generation Taiwanese-American parents. The sitcom is based on his memoir, and the outspoken producer lent some fireworks of his own to the event.
First, Huang touted the importance of his creation finding its way to the small screen.
“Props to the big Asian homie Paul Lee,” Huang joked, referencing the ABC Entertainment Group president who completed his executive session earlier in the day.
Huang said he believes that not many would have taken the risk of running with the show, especially the particularly ugly parts that he experienced firsthand as a child.
“To deal with the word ‘chink’ in the pilot episode of a comedy on network television is borderline genius and insane at the same time,” Huang said.
Another member of the “Fresh Off the Boat” gang described what he called an “interesting” and “crazy” experience, playing Kim Jong-un in the canceled and reinstated Seth Rogen-James Franco comedy “The Interview.”
“I still haven’t fully pieced everything together about what that experience meant to me,” Randall Park told reporters. “I’m just really glad that the movie came out and that in the end people got the chance to see the movie.”
“Nobody wanted to sit next to Randall on set,” showrunner Nahnatchka Khan interjected a joke.
“It was crazy to turn on the news and to see my face,” Park added. News reports were “talking about Kim Jong-un, but they show my face.”
Tension between reporters and those on stage became progressively more awkward when one too many journalists referenced a recent New York Magazine article, “Bamboo Ceiling TV,” in which Huang questioned much about the direction of the show, including apparently having Khan pen it.
Huang accused the reporter of framing the question incorrectly, and after some back and forth, allowed Khan — to whom the question was directed — to answer.
“I related to this when I read his memoir,” Khan said. “The specifics were different to my growing up experience — being Persian-American and him being Taiwanese-American — but what I really related to was the immigrant experience of this show, being first generation and having parents who weren’t born here. That, to me, was my access point.”
Huang added: “They even told me not to talk about immigrants or race of anything today, but the thing I want to make clear is I absolutely feel that we should have more writers of Asian-American descent in the writers room. But I could not debate Natch’s ability to do the show.”
So, why choose now to develop a show that departs so much from mainstream TV? Huang shared a theory: “Asians have money. You want the money? Make things for them.”
“People are really sick of watching things that are for the middle — mass-consumption things,” he concluded. “People want specific stories, and that’s what you’re seeing on Amazon, Netflix, Hulu — people respond to specificity.”
“Fresh Off the Boat” premieres Tuesday, Feb. 10 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.