Food personality Eddie Huang said Wednesday that ABC is being "smart and strategic" in how it is adapting his memoir "Fresh Off the Boat" for a television sitcom, but the process has been anything but smooth.
The series, which debuts Feb. 4, tells the story of a teenage boy from a Taiwanese family trying to fit in to an American suburb.
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Huang's appearance at a television conference to promote the show was preceded by a lengthy first-person piece this week in New York magazine in which he complained about how his often-angry story was smoothed over to make a feel-good sitcom.
Huang, the owner of New York's Baohaus restaurant who is listed as an executive producer of the series, wrote that "the network's approach was to tell a universal, ambiguous, cornstarch story about Asian-Americans resembling moo goo gai pan written by a Persian-American who cut her teeth on race relations writing for Seth MacFarlane."
In the article, Huang reached a grudging admiration for ABC because the pilot addressed an episode from his youth where he confronted a schoolmate for using an ethnic slur against him.
"The show is strategic and smart in the way it eases the viewer into" discussions of ethnic relations, he said Wednesday.
Huang said in an interview he had no regrets about writing on his behind-the-scenes experiences.
"The conversation about race and Asians in America and our culture and us being silenced in a dominant culture for a long time is a conversation that I want to start and that's what I think is the most important thing the show can do," he said.
He said he hoped Americans hold the show responsible for staying true to the book and to the Asian community in general.
People involved with the show conceded that it was not easy to make.
"I appreciate Eddie for having the boldness to have this dialogue," said Constance Wu, who portrays his mother in the series.
Huang's article made for some awkward moments onstage, especially when some critical words he had written about the show's top writer, Nahnatchka Khan, were brought up. In the article, Huang wrote that "I'm kinda worried it's going to be The Shahs of Cul-de-Sac Holando."
"I was thrilled when I read the article because I just found the source material for my next TV project," Khan said. "It might be longer than a miniseries."
Khan said she felt she could relate to the immigrant experience that Huang wrote about.
Huang said Wednesday that he didn't debate her abilities, but he wished there were more Asian writers involved.
The colorful Huang offered props to "my big Asian homey Paul Lee" (ABC's entertainment president is British). He said he believed that ABC was doing a prime-time show with a primarily Asian cast now because "Asians have money" and advertisers want access to them.
Lee brushed aside Huang's criticism. "We love Eddie," he said. "He's a firebrand."
"It's a comedy and the show itself is not a documentary of his book," he said. "That being said, it's a fantastic comedy."
ABC is owned by The Walt Disney Co.
Follow David Bauder at twitter.com/dbauder. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/david-bauder