Flashback: Steve Yeun in Wingmen
In 2009, I interviewed TV producer Marie Yuen. She produced a television pilot called Wingmen, a sitcom about 5 Asian American men in the Chicago dating scene. A bit like "Sex and the City" with Asian dudes. Hey I'm an Asian dude, and I like "Sex and the City!" Anyway, Steve Yeun of The Walking Dead started out in this TV pilot which never got produced:
AA: So tell me, how did this TV show get started?
Marie: A friend of mine and I first started meeting in the spring of 2006 to brainstorm TV series to pitch to the networks. We didn't have any contacts in the industry at that time, so for us at first it was a fun diversion from our everyday lives. After thinking for some months about the shows we were (and weren't) seeing on mainstream TV, "Wingmen" came to us in the fall of 2006 -- and everyone we'd talked to about it got excited because it was nothing they'd seen before on the networks. To some it was empowering because it was our chance to define for mainstream American how we as Asian Americans see ourselves, to let them in on our jokes. And to others it was the opportunity to portray Asian American men as the fun (and at times flawed) three-dimensional guys we know them to be. To showcase them not as the butt of jokes but as jokesters who like to have a good time, just like everyone else.
We wanted a story that would work for the 7 o'clock hour, so that families of all ages could sit together and watch it -- to comment and laugh and argue about the situations and the characters we portrayed. Because as we have heard time and time again, the more specific you write about something, the more universal it is, too. And that as a result we weren't writing for a niche audience, we were writing for all of us.
AA: Now how did you become the producer of this show?
Marie: January 10th, 2007 was the turning point. That was the day we learned of the Chicago Comedy TV Pilot Competition and that spurred us to action because the submission deadline (of the finished DVD) was March 27th, only 2 1/2 months away -- and all we had until then was 70% of a first draft script! So yes, that period was intense but also very satisfying. And I got to write a comedic piece, which I really enjoy.
AA: Is there anyone else involved in this project?
Marie: I have a friend and business partner but she prefers to remain anonymous.
AA: Ooo… sounds like a shadowy figure. Now how did you guys come up with the story for Wingmen?
Marie: The premise for "Wingmen" emerged one night while I was driving to meet some friends of mine for dinner. Earlier that day I had been reading various articles on the internet about different issues and events that were of topmost interest among Asian Americans at that time. So in reaction to that ("Where's the vacuum? What aren't we seeing on TV right now?") came the idea for "Wingmen." I told my friends, who were pretty enthusiastic about it, and they threw questions at me all during dinner about who these 5 guys were (what were their quirks and characteristics, etc), such that by the end of the evening I was raring to go home and start writing. Which I did.
AA: As an Asian American woman, why did you feel it necessary to produce a TV show focusing on Asian American men?
Marie: I have seen first-hand how the portrayal (or at times lack thereof) of Asian and Asian American men has adversely affected the men in my family and I wanted to do something about that. To change things for the better, and hopefully in a way that wouldn't be off-putting or invoke a certain self-defensiveness in non-Asian-Americans. Because comedy is the great leveler, it can be instructional as well as entertaining. And when used in a way that builds bridges and doesn't tear down, comedy can be beautiful. But because comedy is also subjective, even the best of intentions mean nothing if the message received is not at all the message that was sent.
AA: That sounds cool. So what issues does the show touch upon?
Marie: For one thing, that Asian-American men aren't eunuchs or sexless. Because if they were, I wouldn't be here today: I wouldn't exist! For another, there's a wealth of stories that still aren't being told, in mainstream America. The nuances, the subtleties, the understandings and misunderstandings in-on-of-about-to-and-among Asian Americans -- even now, we're just scratching the surface. That's why we made our leads of pan-Asian descent. And that we set our TV series in Chicago is another: because the Midwest has a feel (and a feeling) that is unique from the coasts.
AA: What's the response been to the show?
Marie: The response so far has been good, especially since we still have yet to post our pilot in its entirety for online viewing! And that we were able to raise about 60% of our initial pilot production costs from friends, family, acquaintances and even strangers has been encouraging. Not to mention that of the pilots that were submitted that year (one of the first of its kind in the nation, it has since become an annual event), "Wingmen" was one of the twelve that was accepted into the Chicago Comedy TV Pilot Competition! Sadly we didn't win but we were glad to be named a runner-up. In terms of reach, as of today we've received 3,088 channel views for three of our clips that we have posted onto metacafe.com (Unfortunately, these don't count toward our Producer Rewards Candidacy, so if you can ask those of your readers who haven't yet viewed these clips to use the search engine on MetaCafe to find them -- type in "Wingmen" -- that would be a great help! Also, if all goes well, we should be getting new clips from our pilot posted onto our website Wingmen, the Show by the end of this week.
AA: Now what's the show's future look like?
Marie: Right now, it's hard to say what the future holds for us. Ideally, it would be great if we could sell our series to one of the networks. Of course, that would mean having the pilot reshot -- and since we weren't able to realize everything we'd hoped for in our original pilot, we would be fine with that. But it might be a hard sell (and not for the usual reasons). By trade I am a writer, but until recently not of the television series variety. And as a showrunner (because that's essentially what I am these days, with "Wingmen"), I don't yet have the experience or the street cred, for example, among the WGA (that's the Writer's Guild of America, of which I'm not yet eligible to become a member) or the studios or the networks to manage the caliber of people I would love to have working with me on "Wingmen." There's no way we could accomplish the potential of such a series on our own, and let's face it: producing a series is not cheap. Especially given the survival rate of most freshman series these days. So we would need to pair with someone who could help us through the maze -- to mentor and trust us enough to take that chance. And who would know when to get involved and when to (for lack of a better way of expressing this) stay away.
For the time being, we are still making plans to write and produce more episodes ourselves. As is usually the case, money is the obstacle that is holding us back, but we're taking things one day at a time so hopefully it'll be sooner rather than later.
AA: Well, good luck to you and your crew. Thanks for interviewing!
Marie: Thanks for helping us get the word out!