Two TV Networks Plummet To Their Worst Grades In 8 Years In Annual Report Cards

Even During the Anti-Asian Hate Pandemic, None Have Agreed To Continue Meetings

LOS ANGELES-Between 2001 and 2012 and 2017 and 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.

Last month, 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 which were their worst in 8 years.

In 1999 & 2000, the four major networks signed Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) with members of the national Multi-Ethnic Media Coalition (MEMC) comprised 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 of 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 CBShave refused to provide better information for the issuing of this 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 founding MANAA 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 5 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 become 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 which 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-O 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 re-shoot scenes of its upcoming sitcom Dads, which the press had agreed was 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 Cards for Networks 2019-2020 Season

           (Grades for 2018-19 in parentheses)

 ABCCBSFOXNBC
 GradesGradesGradesGrades
Actors (regular/recurring)A- (A)C+(B-)C- (D+)B- (C+)
Unscripted (hosts/contestants)C (C-)B- (C+)B (C+)C- (D+)
Writers/ProducersB (B)C (C+)C- (C+)C+ (C)
Directors (incl # of episodes directed)B+(B+)B+(B+)B (B)C (C+)
DevelopmentD+(B+)B- (B)B(F/I*)B (C-)
Commitment to DiversityB+ (A-)B+ (B)D+(D+)C (C+)
Diversity Dept. RelationshipC- (B-)F (B)D (C-)D (C+)
Overall GradeC+ (B)C+ (B-)C (C-)C (C)

*Incomplete, no data provided by network

Report Card

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).

ABC

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 Americans 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, Guy Aoki warned ABC that if both FOTB & SHIELD were cancelled, they’d lose 8 regulars, so they needed to make a concerted effort to develop shows which focused on Asian/Pacific Islanders (APIs).  Apparently, that effort failed:  There were no significant API regulars on any of the network’s new shows and MANAA knows of no pilots which 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 AA (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 includes 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.

CBS

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-O 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-O 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-O 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 Big Bang Theory

Surprisingly, there were only 2 recurring APIs on Magnum PI 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).  2 AAs 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 1 writer/producer and 1 API writer on the last season of Five-O 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-O, 4 API directors handled 7 episodes, which is amazing since Peter Lenkov oversaw seasons where they handled none.  But Magnum only used 2 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 2nd credited star in Jury Duty.  4 out of the 7 pilots would’ve featured 5 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:  1 out of 4 participants were APIs up to 3 out of 4 APIs; Writing Mentoring Program:  1 out of 6 were APIs up to 2 out of 6; Diversity Sketch Comedy Showcase:  6 out of 21 were API to 7 out of 20 (by comparison, they picked only 6 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.

Fox (unlike last year, the diversity department failed to provide % data)

Actors:  4 (3%) to 6; Recurring:  4 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 3 (10%) to 6 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 4-episode limited series The Masked Singer:  After the Mask.

Reality specials:  0 to 0; Contestants:  4 (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 3 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 8 (4%) to 11; producers were cut in half from 12 (5%) to 6. Total:  20 (but now they Fox says it was 16) to 17.  There were no API producers on any reality shows.  Grade:  C+ to C-

Directors:  9 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 unable to shoot because of the pandemic until February 2021.  It was picked up as a series earlier this month.  Created & executive produced by Asian Canadians Miranda Kwok & 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 2 or 3 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.

NBC

Actors:  12 (7.5%) up to 15 (9.3%).  This was the season Sunnyside debuted with 5 Asian regulars including Kal Penn as star & creator (but it was the first cancellation of any show on any network and was booted to nbc.com after 4 episodes).  There were new AA regulars on Council of Dads and Perfect Harmony joining two AAs on Good Place.  All of these shows were cancelled that season.  There were 3 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 because 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 work on the comedy.

NBC upped 2 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:  4 (3.1%) to 6 (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 Kal 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 9 unique directors; Number of episodes directed fell from 16 (4.6%) to 11 (3.4%).  Grade:  C+ to C.

Development:  NBC refused to offer any collected info and didn’t say much when asked about it in our last meeting with them in November 2019 either.  Doing our own research we found: 

Young Rock (at least 4 PI regulars; new series for 2020-2021 season), failed pilots:  Echo would’ve featured an Indian woman as the 2nd credited star and Crazy For You might’ve had Alice Lee (Zoey’s Playlist) placed 2nd 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 pipelines programs including late-night writers and sketch comedy showcases.  But the APAMC and MANAA has 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 6 of the 12 known pipeline programs and because the Diversity Department continues to stonewall us, its grade slips from C+ to C.

Diversity Department Relationship:  The diversity department is the only one that still refuses to respect the definition of “recurring actors” as those making 3 to 6 appearances in a given series and not 2 to 6, 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 4 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 who 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.

Founded in 1992, MANAA is an all-volunteer, 501c(3) non-profit organization that has discussed problematic content with movie studios, newspapers and radio stations.  Since 1999, as part of the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition (APAMC), MANAA has met annually with the top four television networks pushing for more inclusion of Asian Americans.  In 2015, it also promoted that vision with talent agencies ICM Partners, WME, Paradigm, and CAA.