We don’t see diversity onscreen very often.
But television can serve as a kind of gateway fiction and act as a catalyst for diversity in mainstream media. The sitcom in particular wields a special power in its ability to depict different kinds of domestic normalcy.
ABC’s newest sitcom Fresh Off The Boat is based on the real-life memoir of Eddie Huang. The show follows the Huang family as they and 11-year-old Eddie move from the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area to the (far less diverse) city of Orlando, Florida.
It has been twenty years since an Asian American family headlined a major network sitcom, when Margaret Cho’s All-American Girl premiered in 1994 (and was promptly cancelled). For context, 1994 was the year Friends premiered, the year Nelson Mandela was elected president of South Africa, the year The Lion King was released, and the year I graduated from kindergarten. Eddie Huang was actually still a child living in Orlando.
Progress, even in the freewheeling world of the American sitcom, has been at a standstill for the majority of a generation.
The cancellation of ABC’s Selfie (which featured the first Asian American male romantic lead) is testament to the degree to which the major networks are still relying on live viewership measurements and the outdated Nielsen ratings system, which does not take into viewership on Hulu, Amazon, or even the networks’ own websites. While I firmly believe that the major TV networks need to (quickly) adapt to the era of internet streaming, the fact remains that they continue to use an outdated yardstick to measure their customers’ interests.
That is why it is crucial that those of us with an interest in advancing diversity in fiction tune in LIVE tomorrow night at 8:30/7:30c on ABC (and again at 9:30/8:30c for a second episode). Join us for two scheduled live tweets (one each for the East and West Coast schedules) to celebrate the premiere of #FreshOffTheBoat!
Show the networks that THESE are the shows we want to see on television.