(June 4, 2012)
Photo Credit: Sharline Liu
(L-R:) AAWC co-chairs Neil Sadhu and Steven Chang, host Adele Lim, showrunners Veena Sud (The Killing), Steve Maeda (Lie to Me), and Naren Shankar (Grimm).
"How important is diversity when putting together a staff for your first-year show?," asked Adele Lim, former Co-Executive Producer of Private Practice and, on the evening of May 14, moderator for the Diversity Committee's first-ever panel of Asian-American showrunners.
“With The Killing I was looking for a group of people that had very specific skills and a way of writing. . . ,” said panelist Veena Sud. “On Cold Case and The Killing half my staffs are women. So as far as diversity it’s not necessarily a goal because it’s a business and you have to find the best writers you can find. But obviously I’m open to everybody . . and I'm completely gender and color blind towards that end.”
“I like to be as well but it’s hard sometimes,” continued Steve Maeda (Lie to Me, Lost). “The reason for having a diversity program of any kind is to expose writers who normally might not be read. The very first show I worked on was more or less all white males. It was not a very diverse group. I was the sole diversity part of that. I think it’s a good trend that all these programs exist, and the studios say ‘hey please hire these people.’ It’s important, but as Veena said, in a perfect world you want the best possible writers you can get.”
According to Naren Shankar (Grimm, CSI), the pace of putting together a first show is brisk, and there is so much to do that diversity is often not a showrunner’s prime concern. “You are reading tons of material. Putting together a writing staff is a lot like casting. You're trying to find chemistry, who's going to work well with whom. It’s a tricky thing."
Sud, Shankar and Maeda are part of a tiny group of Asian-American showrunners in television. But while their numbers are small, they agree that over the past decade diversity of all kinds has been integrated into television writers rooms.
The job of a showrunner, the dynamics of a successful writers room, the skill of hiring people who not only write in the style that a show requires but also personally interact well with each other were themes throughout the two-hour discussion. “On any writing staff the chemistry needs to be right,” said Lim. “We spend more time with other writers than with our own spouses. So when meeting writers, showrunners are looking beyond ideas and pitches and specifics. We want to know what you're like as a person to interact with in the writers room eight to 10 hour a day.”
Watch a clip from An Evening With Asian-American Showrunners