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July 5, 2017 Update: Daniel Dae Kim released an official statement about exiting HAWAII FIVE-O, which you can read here with additional commentary from me.

It came as a surprise to HAWAII FIVE-O fans, as well as the Asian American creative community, when the news dropped today that Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park have departed the show and are not coming back for the upcoming eighth season this fall on CBS.

Major outlets carried this story throughout the day. On initial reading, the CBS announcement seemed quite celebratory; thanking both actors for their work on the show. But then, three things stuck out as red flags to me from CBS’s official announcement.

The first red flag was the first sentence of the release:

Stars Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park have departed CBS’ “Hawaii Five-0.” Their characters, Chin Ho Kelly and Kono Kalakaua, will not appear in the upcoming eighth season. The characters’ absence will be referenced in the season premiere.

Then, this statement from a CBS spokesperson:

“We are so appreciative of Daniel and Grace’s enormous talents, professional excellence and the aloha spirit they brought to each and every one of our 168 episodes. They’ve helped us build an exciting new Hawaii Five-0, and we wish them all the best and much success in their next chapters. Mahalo and a hui hou…”

Thirdly, where were Kim and Park’s own statements in the release? It’s all CBS and showrunner Peter Lenkov but no word from the actors, who were part of the show from the very beginning?

OK, so that means there is no proper sendoff for Chin Ho and Kono. How are they going to be referenced as no longer part of the Five-O task force? To me, that’s giving short shrift to major characters who have been part of the series since the very beginning.

Then came the Variety story, which added the reason why Kim and Park left was because of pay inequality:

Sources tell Variety that Park and Kim had been seeking pay equality with stars Alex O’Loughlin and Scott Caan, but were unable to reach satisfactory deals with CBS Television Studios, which produces the series. CBS’s final offer to Kim and Park was believed to have been 10-15% lower than what O’Loughlin and Caan make in salary. O’Loughlin and Caan each have deals that also provide them percentage points on the show’s back end.

VERY INTERESTING…. When I first blogged about Kim and Park’s departure earlier today, I also wrote the following sentence:

But what is worrisome is that the Asian American characters on the show have been slowly disappearing starting with Brian Yang’s lab tech Charlie Fong, then Masi Oka’s medical examiner Dr. Max Bergman, and now Kim and Park.

HUH. Isn’t it interesting that three main Asian American series regulars — Daniel Dae Kim, Grace Park, and Masi Oka — all left the show within the same year? One could argue it was because their contracts expired and they wanted to move on (this is reasonable since Oka is producing the DEATH NOTE remake for Netflix and Daniel Dae Kim is producing THE GOOD DOCTOR coming out this fall on ABC).

But, that Variety article stuck in my craw, especially with the salary disparity news. Perhaps I’m being conspiratorial, or maybe I should just accept the philosophy of Occam’s razor, but if it was a contract dispute about money and the fact that Kim and Park were not paid in parity with their co-stars Alex O’Loughlin and Scott Caan (Steve McGarrett and Danny “Dano” Williams), then c’mon, that’s fucked up.

Contract negotiations happen all the time, especially when a TV series is running for a few seasons. It’s a give-or-take and part of the process between talent and the studios. FRIENDS and THE BIG BANG THEORY did it and so did countless other shows, from sitcoms and police procedurals.

Yes, HAWAII FIVE-O’s central character is Steve McGarrett. His story is the impetus to the series overall story arc, but when the show was announced in the spring of 2010, I clearly remember this advertisement, seen everywhere on the side of buses and billboards:

This initial poster for the first season of H50 clearly sold the series as an ensemble, and a diverse ensemble at that. It was banking on the diversity and beauty of Hawaii.

In fact, when the show was first announced, Daniel Dae Kim was part of that initial announcement as the first actor cast on the reboot. Kim was riding on a career high, playing the character of Jin on another ensemble series, the iconic LOST.

Then, I attended Comicon in San Diego that summer and was in Hall H when CBS was tubthumping the series, and both Kim and Park were there to sell the show in front of 6,000 people alongside showrunner Peter Lenkov and executive producer Alex Kurtzman.

As a staple of the Tiffany Network’s Friday block, alongside MacGYVER and BLUE BLOODS, these three series were stalwart ratings performers for the network, branding this usual ratings challenged night as a destination for police procedurals and crime dramas. HAWAII FIVE-O is also a moneymaker for CBS Studios, which is converting into massive financial returns in syndication and also international rights.

What I am getting at is that HAWAII FIVE-O, especially with its original cast, is truly an ensemble. Kim and Park were integral to the overall arc of the series, playing “locals” who represented “me” on the series (I was born and raised in Hawaii). They portrayed positive Asian American identities in mainstream culture, including on the subject of romantic love — with Chin Ho married, becoming a widow, adopting his evil brother-in-law’s daughter and dating a colleague in a no big deal AM/WF love story. As for Park’s Kono character being written off the show, we won’t have this anymore:

That’s right, no more Adam Noshimuri, played with 100% smolder and chivalry by Ian Anthony Dale. The last time we had an AM/AF romantic couple on a major network show was…. Daniel Dae Kim and Yunjin Kim on LOST!

So, as I revisit the salary disparity reported in the Variety article, it just reeks of corporate bottom-line harshness, tinged with racial and gender bias when it comes to salary parity. Now, I don’t know if the Asian American leads in the show were set on leaving anyway, but Variety definitely disputes that and raises reasonable doubt that something else was afoot.

Corporate shills probably saw Kim and Park as commodities and refused to meet their demands. Plus, since this is a show set in Hawaii and the perception to have PoC actors as part of the main cast is important, said shills would simply hire newcomers, pay them a pittance (compared to the likes of Alex o’Loughlin and Scott Caan), and have them be window dressing and re-focus the show on the two white male leads.

Again, I could be all Fox Mulder on this, as I type away in some dank basement (much like Jorge Garcia’s Jerry character), but the optics just don’t look good — released to news outlets on a Friday afternoon, and right before a long holiday weekend? Talk about burying the lead, a tactic often used in Hollywood and Washington.

Whatever the case may be, if it wasn’t a mutual departure or really a contract negotiation stand-still, this surely looks like yet another example of racial and gender salary disparity, especially for both Kim and Park, who have racked 168 H50 episodes each under their belts. I hope they received the respect and time to be heard, especially when renewing their contracts, but I am leaning towards probably not. It’s a business after all, especially for a police procedural like H50, which is a sausage factory for CBS in the grand scheme of things. Also, to have the two actors not be included in any statements as part of the press release today just make the optics more vague and not in CBS’s favor.

In my previous blog entry, I called out showrunner Peter Lenkov to hire Asian American or Native Hawaiian actors to replace Chin Ho and Kono on the show, which would be a good thing–if it’s a genuine effort. But, is CBS just going to take the easy way out and cast “cheaper” actors of color to serve as window dressing to mask a deeper issue?

I have a feeling this story isn’t over…

9 Comments

  1. Wow, SUPERB reporting with completely journalist cred for taking us through the complete issue, giving proper background, and citing sources entirely, and then also major points for writing with the consistent thesis about the racist pay gap. Hopefully Kim & Park out the guilty folk to screwing their pay over.

  2. Oh, puhleeeeeze, can the dramatics. The bankroll these two were getting for a major TV network series was pretty substantial, and they AREN’T EVEN THE LEADS. Like it or not, two white dudes are the lead actors in this TV show. They’re the ones pulling in the eyeballs, of course not by themselves, but they’re largely responsible for it. These Asian cats were being compensated pretty damn well for being the SUPPORTING CAST. They did CBS and the non-white acting community a favor by quitting and letting CBS find two other, COMPLETELY UNKNOWN, NON-WHITE actors who wouldn’t have had a chance otherwise to take their place for a very substantial salary for unknown, non-white actors. If you had any idea of the union pay scale for actors in a major TV network series then you’d know they’re going to make some pretty decent cheddar (compared to their current starving actor status), AND MAYBE, this opp will help launch their careers into bigger and better things (like it’s doing for Kim & Park). So please stop this racist, conspiracy sob story. It’s boring and cliche.

  3. Tutto Bene, let me guess, you’re not Asian and have never been racially discriminated against? FYI I know for a fact there was an Asian actor on Teen Wolf that was a main cast ‘supporting actress’ and getting paid pittance for her part, so ridiculous that she ended up leaving after 5 seasons after being there since day dot. Pay inequality exists between races as it exists between genders and it’s because of mindsets like yours that it continues to be an issue. If you don’t care enough about people’s rights, shut up.

  4. Initially, I enjoyed the new Five-0 series. After two seasons, however, the blatant racism imbedded in the production made me give up on the show. The two white “leads” onlry dates white women. The two Asian (underling) “leads” only dated other Asians. They had no sway in decision making. The powerful series regulars were white (whites female governor) while the goofy Asian stereotypes were proliferating. Nawp. Not for me.

  5. Great reporting! I read your article and had to subscribe my two cents. Growing up in the 96706 area at the time of the original series, I can add to substantiate that the characters Kono and Chin Ho are infrastructural characters that would be too odd to “write out” of the sequel. I, too, noticed the fact brought up by John Enso-Rico about the racial dating bias. It came up in a discussion in a class I took about Subliminal Biases in the Media. However subtle changes, such as character changes in a syndicated series, do have consequences in perceived gender/racial roles in the way the audience forms their views on such roles and how they identify with them and themselves in society. However one thinks these changes are, is reflected in how they see themselves in representative roles in the series: the author of this article/author of the comments.
    Granted, the original series did cast McGarrett and Danny as leading white male roles. So did every other drama from that time period to this day. But to take out infrastructural characters (Chin Ho, Kono, and Fong) is to undermine how audiences identify with those roles and change the whole dynamics of the plot line, which for CBS is a double-edged gamble it might not recover from: lose fan base and local rejection of the show.
    Add in any substantiation in pay parity for those roles cause socio/economic ripples, however minute, however intended/unintended by corporate policy/direction.
    My take on this? CBS will either wrap up the show, or take a gamble at replacing them in with surrogate local characters. That will be an uphill battle CBS will/is take in to consideration. But like another series, Shameless, where supporting actress Emmy Rossum protested/contested her gender biased pay parity with lead actor, William H. Macy, won her cause (http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/live-feed/shameless-star-emmy-rossum-demands-equal-pay-more-season-8-954582). 360 win for all in that scenario.
    So comes the big question, why can’t CBS do likewise?…

  6. Oh, I am Asian, Shuang sweetie. Why do you think I can say all this with such reckless abandon?… If you’re on an ensemble show featuring over 12 characters, your real worth will be based on your screen time. The characters with the most screen time are the real main cast. Everyone else is really “supporting” and that will be reflected in their compensation. The fact that her name appears near the end of the cast credits shows you where she is in the pecking order (and yes, credit positions are also written into contracts). And she was lucky to be non-white, with a regular acting gig, on a network show. It meant she was a working actor, the vast majority of which are non-working, white, Asian, black, whateva. What she does post-Teen Wolf is up to her and her agent but at least she has that experience to leverage. Who knows, maybe she’ll get one of the vacant roles in 5-O, in which case she’ll make even less than Park did but it will be a huge raise from Teen Wolf. Acting is still like a regular job. You get paid more with more experience, on bigger networks, their star wattage and all network shows pay union scale and union minimums. Even on a low-rated show on a minor TV network. I worked for a mini-major talent agency and a major movie studio so I’ve seen the contracts that states the cheddar for actors, writers, producers, etc. I don’t need to rely on heresay or rumor to know what kind of money these people are making. If you’re talking about the Asian actress that I think you are, she doesn’t have much of a resume so I would be surprised if she got paid much above SAG minimums for this type of show. And like I said, Park leaving 5-O opens doors for other Asian actors (if they cast the role for an Asian). Park will surely get another job and Kim already has one as an EP for his own network show. You should see what those guys get paid… And where in my post did I say that pay inequality doesn’t exist? I just have a good idea of what kind of money Kim is pulling in (and it’s a lot more than Park) based on union payscales, his amount of experience, the types of shows he’s done and his star wattage. The guy’s a multimillionaire made from his acting career. 10% less than what the leads are getting paid is still a lot of money. And no, Kim & Park are not the leads so they don’t deserve equal pay regardless of their race. That’s what I’m saying.

  7. Oh, and I’m glad that Park is gone. Got freaking tired of having an Asian masquerading as a Native Hawaiian when she doesn’t even look remotely Hawaiian (or act like it). If anything good can come out of this, the producers and the network will cast someone of Hawaiian or Polynesian descent to co-star in a show set in Hawaii. A great way to give an actor of Polynesian descent a job in the entertainment industry cause it’s a tough industry for anyone to make a living in, whateva your ethnic heritage.

  8. If nobody else is offended, I AM! Why should Scott Caan even get paid – he’s never THERE! Too bad he and that Steve guy seem nice too bad CBS are jerks! hello – God I really hate being white because I am subject to people looking at me as agreeing with this nonsense! The show only exists because of Grace and Daniel and their storylines – nobody gives a crap about the other two BORING! I can’t wait to retire to the Philippines with my husband and take my US-made Social Security with me – living in a land of beauty and beautiful people (ok, except for the stupid President there – don’t get me started)! I really hope CBS tanks with this Hawaii 5-0 – they need to learn the lesson. Mahalo nui loa my Grace & Daniel – we shall see you again – in BETTER company. Aloha!

  9. As a third generation Okinawan-American, since from the very beginning I never felt it was a victory to see these Asian actors in these supportive roles. We are still token and being portrayed in stereotype. We need more writers, producers, musicians, artists, as well as actors. It is progress though that Kim and Park can make this strong a confrontation, this is powerful; hold on to wisdom. In the arts, political means is a poor example and undercuts the talent.