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Fox defends 'Banzai,' mum on 'Millionaire'

July 18, 2003|Greg Braxton | Times Staff Writer

As Fox executives touted the network's major Emmy Award nominations and its upcoming schedule on Thursday at the Hollywood Renaissance Hotel, several protesters marched outside, blasting the network's new comedy series "Banzai," which they said is racist and offensive to Asian Americans.

More than two dozen members of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans and other groups hailed motorists outside the hotel at the Hollywood & Highland complex to voice their opposition to "Banzai," a parody of Japanese game shows that premiered Sunday. Group leaders said they were angered by what they called the show's stereotypical images and the host's over-the-top accent.

Waving signs that read "Racism isn't funny" and "Fox sold us out for ratings," the protesters said that Fox had been unresponsive to their requests to alter the show's humor and to change the host's accent.

The protest took place just before Fox Television Entertainment Group Chairman Sandy Grushow and Fox Entertainment President Gail Berman spoke about the network's new schedule before the semiannual gathering of television writers and critics.

Berman defended "Banzai" to reporters: "The show itself is a parody of game shows.... We've received very little protest in regards to this show. Even our affiliate in San Francisco has received little protest. We think the show is hysterically funny, good and edgy. We certainly don't want to offend anyone, but we're sorry some people feel that way."

The executives also declined to provide specific details about the new edition of "Joe Millionaire," the unscripted series that was a monster hit for Fox last season. The premise of the first edition revolved around a construction worker posing as a millionaire who wooed several single women.

When some writers in attendance expressed frustration at not being told more about the new "Joe Millionaire," Grushow said the show's concept required that specifics be kept under wraps.

"Nobody is trying to be deceptive, but we can't afford to have it out there in the general public what this show is about."

Later during the press conference, Grushow took a shot at rival NBC while praising current and past Fox shows such as "Keen Eddie" and "Bakersfield P.D.," which were loved by critics and executives but not by viewers.

Grushow said he would rather take a shot at riskier series "than making the 'Good Morning Miamis' of the world," a reference to one of NBC's comedies that was renewed despite less than stellar ratings.

In other Fox news, the network announced that British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Glenn Close, Jennifer Garner, Jerry Lewis, "Harry Potter" author J.K. Rowling, Sir Ian McKellen, documentarian Michael Moore and Simon Cowell of "American Idol" would be among the guest voices for the upcoming season of "The Simpsons."

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