The Fox pilot for Dads faced many questions after a potentially racist moment in the premiere.
On Thursday, reporters at the Television Critics Association Summer 2013 press tour pressed the cast and crew about the direction and tone of the show, which stars Martin Mull, Peter Riegert, Brenda Song, Vanessa Lachey, Giovanni Ribisi and Seth Green.
The show follows two men in their 30s whose Dads unexpectedly move in with them and turn their lives upside down. A questionable moment came when Green’s character instructed asian counterpart (Song) to wear a sexy anime school girl outfit to win over an asian potential business client.
“We don’t want the show to be the racial insult comedy show,” says veteran executive producer Mike Scully, who compared the show’s offensiveness to the early days of The Simpsons, when some viewers were outraged by Homer strangling Bart. “It’s a comedy about fathers and sons … anytime you’re doing a show, for the first six episodes, you’re still improving.”
“Just to be fair, these are some pretty disparaging portrayals of white men,” notes star Seth Green, who referenced sitcom classics All in The Family and The Jeffersons.
“If this show still has low-hanging jokes … and the characters have not become full-blown over the next few months, the show will not work,” Fox’s president of entertainment Kevin Reilly admitted on Thursday morning. “You should take it to task and we’ll talk about it in January after we’ve produced a number of them, and not now before we’ve even started … We’ve seen it in shows like ‘Family Guy.’ We’re all going to have our moment to get skewered — we’ve got to earn that … I think the show is going to get richer and better. Let’s see where it goes … I’m not suggesting a second that we’re ‘All in the Family.’ We’d be petrified to go into that territory today … I think the audience will let us know and the ratings will let us know. We’ve put the pilot in front of a lot of groups. It was a high-testing pilot [among] a lot of ethnicities and orientations.”
Creator Alec Sulkin says the intention wasn’t to offend, but to find a humorous moment. “We thought it would lead to a funny scene … we’re trying to learn what lands and what doesn’t.”
“Coming from The Disney Channel, anything I do is going to offend somehow, somewhere, somehow,” says Song, who maintains wearing the outfit was something she thought her character would do. “She’s a go-getter, she loves her job and will do anything she has to … I love being on a show where the envelope is always pushed… If you can’t laugh at yourself, you can’t laugh at all.”
Song says her friends will jokingly play off stereotypes, so the scene did not seem insensitive. “I joke around all the time, ‘I’m Asian, I’m really good at math,’” she says. “I know so many people who joke about themselves, we’re just doing it on TV. For me for my generation, I grew up watching The Family Guy and The Simpsons …I get to do what I’ve been dreaming about since I was 7 years old. I can’t complain.”
Dads premieres Tuesday, September 17 at 8 p.m. ET on Fox.