Are Asian Americans Finally Breaking Television Glass Ceiling?

Finally, a prime television program starring an Asian American airs on a major network.  The Mindy Project starring The Office’s Mindy Kaling is set to air on FOX this September.   There has not been a network show led by an Asian American since Margaret Cho’s landmark All American Girl aired on ABC in 1994.  A situation comedy, it focuses on Mindy as a Dr. who also is single and trying to find romance.  It is produced in NBC Universal Studios.  To get an advance preview, check the pilot out here.

In addition, TBS has already launched Sullivan & Son starring Steve Byrne.  Byrne co-produces the show with a former executive producer of Cheers.  The show like Cheers is set in a Pittsburgh bar with Steve as the son of an Irish American father and Korean immigrant mother.  Unlike Cheers, the bar showcases a diverse neighborhood.   Sullivan & Son goes out of its way to gently mock racism and ethnic stereotyping.

This new season also brings us Lucy Liu as “Watson” in the Sherlock Holmes- inspired new show Elementary on CBS and Tim Jo as an “alien” neighbor on ABC’s The Neighbors. 

Hopefully, you’ve noticed the growing population of significant roles held by Asian Americans on television.   When I was growing up, I had a major crush on George Takei – one of the only Asian Americans on television at that time.  Now there are actresses winning Emmys like Archie Panjabi on The Good Wife, and Sandra Oh on Grey’s Anatomy.  Interestingly, Panjabi is actually British and Oh is actually Canadian.

I hope you will tune in and watch. If we want to see more Asian Americans on television – their shows need to have a good audience.

My brother is an actor and a writer and as a civil rights activist who has seen the power of the media to shape the public’s perceptions of minority communities, I am particularly passionate about the issue of Asian Americans in film and television – or general lack there-of.  I helped to negotiate agreements with ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX over a decade ago and until last year led a coalition of Asian American groups working with the networks and the NAACP, National Hispanic Media Coalition and American Indians in Film and Television to increase the opportunities for minorities in front of and behind the camera.

Television is a writers’ medium so we focused significant attention on writer development programs and projects.  It is interesting that both The Mindy Project and Sullivan & Son are written by their Asian American stars.  ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX have intern and other programs – if you are interested in working in the television industry – check out their websites.