Asian-american sitcom set to hit the small screen
Restaurateur and TV host Eddie Huang’s recently published memoir Fresh Off the Boat will serve as inspiration for a potential ABCTV sitcom that if given the green light will be the first Chinese American-focused show on a major US network.
Nahnatchka Khan, creator of the show Don’t Trust the B— in Apartment 23, will serve as executive producer on the pilot with Jake Kasdan of 20th Century Fox TV. Huang will produce.
“ABC is giving us a chance to talk about Asian America and it’s beautiful,” Huang told China Daily. “It’s the American-born Chinese dream. I hope in the next few years, when Chinese people see the acronym ABC on their televisions, they say ‘American Born Chinese’.”
Set in the 1990s in Orlando, Florida, and loosely based on Huang’s childhood, the show will likely feature the bawdy humor that has become his signature. His TV show of the same name has seen him travel to Taiwan, Miami and other cities to sample both local food and culture.
Before he made a name for himself as a New York City food personality and owner of Taiwanese bun eatery Baohaus, Huang was a kid struggling to define what being Chinese in America should be. The show will aim to depict that experience without relying on heavy-handed tropes, he says.
“We all understand that trying to write an overly general and oppressive ‘Asian’ show isn’t the way to go,” he says. “What we want is a human story that every one relates to but represents the idea of difference simply with the faces on the screen and the voice of the writer. Martin, Fresh Prince, Seinfeld, to me these weren’t ‘black’ shows or ‘Jewish’ shows, they were great shows with original voices and individual characters we hadn’t heard and that ended up changing the American consciousness.”
Huang’s book, which was described by The New York Times as a “frequently hilarious … surprisingly sophisticated memoir about race and assimilation in America”, was inspired by the feeling that he had been hemmed-in by the Asian-Americans who had passed through the public eye before him, he says. Authors Amy Tan, Amy Chua and Gish Jen have all written about the Asian-American experience in a way that in his opinion “provide nothing to a 12-year-old Chinese kid being berated by ‘ ching chong’ jokes in the lunchroom”.
“I would have died to see this show as a 12-year-old,” he says of the upcoming pilot.
The overwhelming support he has received for his memoir has only confirmed that there’s an audience for stories about the immigrant experience, he says
Khan, who grew up in Hawaii with Iranian parents who had immigrated to the US, “gets” his perspective, Huang says. While the idea of ceding control to another writer in telling his story is strange, he’s confident that Khan will handle the material with humor and nuance.
“I know this was my story, but it’s time to give it to Nahnatchka so it can become everyone else’s,” he says.
“Like DMX said, ‘If you love something, let it go. If it comes back, it was yours. If it doesn’t, it never was.’ I want people to know that Chinese people are just like any other people. We’re in mountains, we’re in lakes, we’re on roller blades, we’re on scooters and we’re on television.”