© 2024 Connecticut Public

FCC Public Inspection Files:
WPKT · WRLI-FM · WEDW-FM · Public Files Contact
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

On The Podcast: Rep Sweats, Or, 'I Don't Know If I Like This, But I Need It To Win'

(Left) Hudson Yang in ABC's <em>Fresh Off the Boat</em>. (Center) Critic Jeff Yang. (Right) Margaret Cho in ABC's <em>All American Girl</em>.
Eric McCandless/Getty Images; CNN/Courtesy of Jeff Yang; ABC Photo Archives/Getty Images
(Left) Hudson Yang in ABC's Fresh Off the Boat. (Center) Critic Jeff Yang. (Right) Margaret Cho in ABC's All American Girl.

For this week's episode, I sat down with my Code Switch teammate Gene Demby to dig into one of our favorite topics: rep sweats. It's the feeling of anxiety that can come with watching TV shows or movies starring people who look like you, especially when People Who Look Like You tend not to get a lot of screen time.

When it comes to strong feelings and anxieties about representation on TV — especially when it comes to Asian-Americans — Jeff Yang has plenty of experience. He's a cultural critic who regularly contributes to CNN, as well as The Wall Street Journal, Quartz and, occasionally, Code Switch.

In 1994, Jeff was a TV critic for Village Voice. His editor told him to review the new ABC sitcom All-American Girl, starring the comedian Margaret Cho, who played a Korean-American teenage girl constantly butting heads with her immigrant family.

Jeff hesitated. All-American Girl was the first network sitcom featuring an Asian-American family ever, and a lot was riding on it. Jeff knew how hard it was for shows starring black and brown actors — let alone an Asian-American actress — to get made at all.

Then as now, the landscape of network TV shows featuring families of color was constantly changing and receding. Latino and black family sitcoms, like Viva Valdez or the short-lived That's My Mama, cropped up in spurts, then went away. And any impact they had in broadening diversity on TV was incremental at best, and stereotypical at worst.

Jeff knew all this, and he didn't want to hurt the show. To make matters worse, he knew Margaret Cho personally. But Jeff's editor presented him with a tough question: Are you more concerned with doing your job as a TV critic, or remaining loyal to your community?

Jeff sat down with me to talk about what happened next, and also the fact that his own son, Hudson Yang, now stars in Fresh Off The Boat, the first Asian-American family sitcom in 20 years since the cancellation of — you guessed it — All-American Girl. Knowing what he knows now, would Jeff have done anything differently two decades ago?

I also talked with Hudson about his role on Fresh, and he and Jeff walked me through how they fit into the tiny, ever-changing landscape of Asian-Americans on TV.

Related reading:

  • A Timeline Of Network Sitcoms Featuring Families Of Color (Kat Chow, Code Switch)
  • Remember When You Had To Flip To The Back Page Of 'Jet' To Find Black People On TV? (Gene Demby, Code Switch)
  • Why It's So Hard For Us To Agree About Dong From 'Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt' (Kat Chow, Code Switch)
  • American Untouchable (Emily Nussbaum, The New Yorker)
  • All-American Girl at 20: The Evolution of Asian Americans on TV (E. Alex Jung, The Los Angeles Review Of Books)
  • Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Stand up for civility

    This news story is funded in large part by Connecticut Public’s Members — listeners, viewers, and readers like you who value fact-based journalism and trustworthy information.

    We hope their support inspires you to donate so that we can continue telling stories that inform, educate, and inspire you and your neighbors. As a community-supported public media service, Connecticut Public has relied on donor support for more than 50 years.

    Your donation today will allow us to continue this work on your behalf. Give today at any amount and join the 50,000 members who are building a better—and more civil—Connecticut to live, work, and play.

    Related Content