Melvin Mar, executive producer of Fresh Off the Boat, is our special guest at CAAMFest San Jose Opening Night.
As Fresh Off the Boat heads into Season 2, Mar shares a little about how the show is like a dream come true, about what we can look forward to in the new season, and more. Mar also has a new show he’s executive producing, The Grinder, starring Rob Lowe and Fred Savage.
Fresh Off the Boat premieres September 22, 2015 at 8:30pm on ABC. Join us as we celebrate the start of Season Two and hear more from Melvin Mar at CAAMFest San Jose Opening Night on Friday, September 18, 2015. After that, attend the Opening Night Party at the San Jose Museum of Art and dance to 90s throwback tracks in honor of Fresh Off the Boat. Buy tickets at the link below andfind out more about CAAMFest San Jose here.
How’s everything going for you?
It’s great. We started [shooting Season 2] a couple of weeks ago. It’s really exciting. It’s still pretty cool to see that there’s an Asian family on ABC. We were watching it from the monitor and just excited.
What drew you to Fresh Off the Boat?
Every year, there’s a bunch of things that you develop, and not everything gets to pilot. Two years ago, we’d sold something already, and Johnny Davis, who’s the head of Creative Affairs at 20th [Century Fox Television] said to me, ‘Do you want to do anything else?’ And I was hesitant to do something else. I just thought, they’re going to make me do more work (laughs). And he said ‘Well, anything you want.’ Being Chinese American, and growing up watching Family Ties, I harbored some sort of thing deep down about wanting to do something Asian American. I just didn’t know what yet. When he said that, I said, ‘What about a Chinese family on TV,’ and thinking he was going to say ‘no,’ or not be very supportive for a litany of reasons, one of them being, we tried it before with All American Girl. He was immediately supportive of it and was like, ‘That’s really cool, well, how do you want to do it?’ And I had to figure it out.
How did you put together this, what seems to be a really amazing team of people?
It’s people we’ve worked with before. And then Nahnatchka Khan, who I’ve wanted to work with for a while. (They met at V3, a digital media conference presented by the Asian American Journalists Association, Los Angeles chapter). She was somebody who I thought was very talented, and I wanted to work with her.
Did you imagine the show would be this successful?
You’re hopeful that it is. I knew that it was going to be good. But that doesn’t always equal success or the audience accepting it. I was cautiously optimistic. You’re always preparing yourself for it not working for some reason. That was part of the argument I never had to make—I felt like it was time, I felt that the Asian American audience was there, and wanted to see something that reflected themselves on television. Everybody was very supportive, from the studio all the way to the network.
When you found out it would be renewed, how did you feel?
It was crazy. It was a really great feeling to know that actually, this is the first time ever—the first time that an Asian American show goes second season.
How is this season going to be different compared to the first season?
We’re very excited about last season. It premiered in a very cool way, and the community has really supported us. It’s an actual thing, which is awesome. I’m grateful for the audience and the community support.
We have one of the most diverse writers rooms in Hollywood. We added two writers this year—this woman named Rachna Fruchbom, and Sheng Wang, who’s Taiwanese American. That’s the goal of the show—to keep adding new voices each year.
We’re going to explore the characters a little deeper. There will be some storylines where Eddie deals with some adolescent heartache. There will be relationship stuff. There’s the storyline where Eddie experiences heartbreak, and then he’ll experience love at the same time, which is something everybody can relate to. We’re going to have a lot of fun with it. Look for some cameos. After a whole season of talking about Shaq and Shaq sightings, Shaq is going to show up. Jeremy Lin is going to do something.
Grandma, we’re going to delve into a little bit more. She was present last year, but I want to expand her storyline. We’re going to give her a little more this year. I love the whole thing of just having a Chinese woman speak Mandarin on TV, on ABC! It just makes me happy. We’re talking about how there’s going to be a whole argument in Mandarin.
Did you grow up speaking Mandarin?
I’m a terrible Mandarin speaker, I’m a much better Cantonese speaker, because my family is Cantonese. My family’s from Southern China, but during the [Chinese Communist] revolution, went to Hong Kong, that’s my mother’s side of the family. On my father’s side of the family, they also went to Hong Kong, but there was a large paper son immigration before the turn of the century. My dad’s side dates back to the railroad [times].
Last season, it seemed that the show became a family show. Is it still going to be the same this season?
We’re on ABC at 8:30 at the first part of the season, and 8 on the second part of the season. It is family viewing. To me, it pays homage to the shows I grew up on, like Family Ties. It’s so great that kids come up to me and say it’s my favorite show. It’s really kind of heart-warming. It’s not just Asian American kids. All kids love it. And it’s not just for kids, adult love it too. That was the idea from the very beginning. It was making a show for everybody, with an Asian American point of view.
Is there anything else you want to add?
I’m excited to go to CAAMFest San Jose. I think it’s really cool that you’re doing this stuff. The Asian American community is really supporting us, and I’m really grateful. It sounds a little cheesy, but it’s a dream come true, in a way.
Being Asian American, and you’re always going to these festivals. For a long time, you do a panel, and you leave feeling bad because there’s somebody who says, you should do more for the community. And you’re like, yes, I want to. It has to be the right thing at the right time. I think Fresh Off the Boat is a result of that—the right idea at the right time, and everybody supporting that.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.