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…