Amid a swirl of equal pay issues and racial discrimination allegations triggered by the recent departure of actors Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park from “Hawaii Five-0,” CBS has missed a golden opportunity to right a wrong.
The mantra from the get-go should have been “hire local.”
The reboot show, which premiered in 2010, should have enlisted bona fide island actors with Asian-American and/or Hawaiian-Polynesian roots as part of the investigative team. If they lacked experience, give them time to learn.
It didn’t seven years ago, and it sort of tried now with today’s announcement of three new cast members to replace Kim (as Chin Ho Kelly) and Park (Kono Kalakaua).
Beulah Koale, one of the trio of new regulars, is a New Zealander of Samoan descent. He will play Junior Reigns, an ex-Navy SEAL, presumably getting his seal of approval from Steve McGarrett, himself an ex-SEAL. He’s not “local” but it’s a start: He’s got the right looks.
Also hired: Ian Anthony Dale, who has had a recurring role since Season 2 as Kono’s problematic beau and later husband, Adam Noshimuri, will now be a newbie on the investigative force, along with Meaghan Rath as Tani Rey, a pool lifeguard recruited by McGarrett after being bumped out of the police academy.
The end of Season 7 set up the potential absence of Chin and Kono when the series, already filming its eighth season, returns Sept. 29. I have no doubt the new hires can tackle the tasks ahead.
But the fact remains: Local actors traditionally face a form of discrimination whereby casting folks hire union card-carrying mainland talent over unproven locals. It’s unlikely that a search was done to secure resident actors to fill Kim and Park’s vacancies.
So a new chapter begins.
The presence of Hawaii “locals” in secondary roles made a huge difference in the immense appeal and drawing power of the original “Five-0” led by Jack Lord (McGarrett) and James MacArthur (Danno).
This version ran from 1968 to 1980 and was peopled with our friends and neighbors; it was always a private thrill to see “one of our own” on the small screen. We’d giggle and smile when we encountered them at Longs or Times Super Market. We’d flash a shaka to demonstrate approval and congrats.
Showrunners of the remake could have at least tried to do what original creator-producer Leonard Freeman did when Kam Fong Chun was recruited as Chin Ho and Zulu (Gilbert Kauhi) as Kono (1968 to 1972) — the first “locals” on the “Five-0” force. Al Harrington as Ben Kokua replaced Zulu, and appeared from 1969 to ‘75.
For the local hires, there was a spillover effect, too, with the Polynesian pair extending their “Five-0” fame with popular Waikiki shows: Zulu at the Pagoda Hotel’s C’est Si Bon club and Harrington at the Polynesian Palace, which was part of the then-Cinerama Hotel on Lewers. It was a win-win situation for the series and fans of the homegrown stars.
As for the issue of salaries, networks like CBS don’t discuss personnel matters but admitted that some pay hikes were offered to Kim and Park and refused.
In reality, most TV shows, like films, have a pecking order. The top-tier stars traditionally earn more than the secondary leads, and the scale drops the further you go down the ladder, so it’s a no-brainer that Alex O’Loughlin (McGarrett) and Scott Caan (Danny “Danno” Williams) would earn more than anyone else in front of the cameras. Perhaps it was the bromance factor — the give-and-take between the two characters has been essential to the flow and fun of the show — and though the four-member investigating team might be perceived as equals, the roles clearly aren’t.
The current cast also features Chi McBride (Lou Grover) and Jorge Garcia (Jerry Ortega), and I’d bet their paychecks are smaller than O’Loughlin and Caan’s. This has nothing to do with parity or race.
Industry buzz indicates O’Loughlin also has a back-end deal, earning him millions, possibly linked to syndication rights, to augment his paycheck. He’s been a CBS favorite for years, following two previous failed series before “Five-0.”
Some may argue that Kim and Park looked “local” because of their Korean heritage. Since Kim was part of a large ensemble cast on ABC’s Hawaii-filmed “Lost” for six seasons prior to “Five-0,” he has been a resident here for many years. But Kim was born in South Korea and Park (who plays a part Hawaiian) has roots in Canada. As well-liked as these two actors may be, they lack the “local” bona fides resident viewers approve and applaud.
It might ultimately be a provincial issue, but “local” really matters.
Wayne Harada is a veteran Honolulu entertainment columnist. Reach him at 266-0926 or email email@example.com.