A Brief History of Asian Americans on Television

Those who have still not recovered from the tragic loss of Don’t Trust the B— in Apartment 23 can finally draw their mourning period to a close. Former showrunner Nahnatchka Khan just received a pilot order from ABC, and it’s a far cry from the two-single-gals-in-the-city premise of her last project. An adaptation of Eddie Huang’s memoir Fresh Off the Boat, the would-be series is a family sitcom based on Huang’s experiences as a Taiwanese American growing up in Orlando. Combined with the news that Margaret Cho will co-star in Fox’s upcoming Tina Fey-produced comedy, it’s a promising development for Asian-American representation on television. To put it in perspective, here’s a brief, non-comprehensive history of Asian Americans’ role in the medium, from George Takei to Lucy Liu. 

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The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong

A successful film actress who’d previously spoken out against both the whitewashing of Chinese roles and racial stereotyping in the industry, Anna May Wong became the first Asian American to play a television series lead in 1951 with this short-lived DuMont Network mystery, centered on a crime-solving gallery owner. After broadcasting only ten half-hour episodes, The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong was abruptly canceled, and no copies survived the discarding of DuMont’s archives in the early 1970s. With a title derived from Wong’s birth name, the show marked a coup for an actress who was once denied the leading role in the film version of The Good Earth in favor of German colleague Louise Rainer.