Feb 21 2017

“TV and Me.” by Julie Wong


When I started writing as a creative antidote to the speeches and press releases I was churning out as a political press secretary, there was no question I wanted to write television.  We’ve always had a close relationship, TV and me.

Thanks to my parents’ decision to fulfill their travel ambitions by joining the U.S. civil service, my early childhood was spent overseas.  For four years, television was my most consistent exposure to American culture besides my parents.  When the people and furry creatures of Sesame Street appeared in our living room speaking and singing in English for three back-to-back episodes on Sundays, I consumed them like a shipwreck survivor at a Las Vegas buffet.  These were the days before YouTube or TV on DVD, and if I missed a Sunday, I was out of luck for another full week.  Talk about must-see television.

TV and I more than made up for lost time after my family returned to the U.S.  My sister joined me for an excessive number of hours in front of our favorite afternoon reruns.  Then, when not actually watching TV, we’d engage in role-playing games like “Laverne and Shirley,” which mostly consisted of arguing over who was going to be Laverne and who was going to be Shirley, although to this day we’re still unclear which was preferable.

When I started second grade at a new school, television helped me connect with my classmates.  As one of a handful of Asian American kids, I was an anomaly. But thanks to TV, I quickly found common ground over shows like the Brady Bunch and Facts of Life, and that opened the door for discovering other shared interests from stuffed animals to roller skating.

There were a few times when television made my life more complicated. When the neighborhood kids role-played characters from TV shows, there were occasional awkward moments while we figured out a part for me, since you could count the number of female Asian American characters on zero hands.  Even then, I still considered TV an ally.

In college, I spent a semester interning at CNN’s Washington DC bureau, choosing that opportunity primarily because of my interest in television.  I experienced from a different perspective how TV connected people around the country, fostering a common lexicon and offering a set of facts that served as the basis for our national dialogue.

As a result of the CNN internship, I pursued a career in politics, eventually leading communications operations for the Mayor of Los Angeles and a highly-targeted U.S. Senate campaign, among others.  In these roles, I saw how voters created their own relationships with my candidates based on what they saw of and learned about them on television.  (For fans of The West Wing, my jobs were akin to that of Allison Janney’s character C.J. Cregg.)

Now, TV and I have entered a new phase in our relationship.  And although television scripts are certainly different from political speeches and press releases, I’m finding that in many ways my goals as a writer are the same.  Develop protagonists who help us understand who we are and who we might aspire to be.  Reflect on where we are as a community to help us see where we’re successful together and where we still have more to learn.  Explore universal themes that help us connect with each other as people, even when we come from diverse places or don’t agree on every issue.

Starting from those days of binge-watching Sesame Street, I’ve experienced the effects of television that accomplishes all of the above. TV provided me a much-desired link to my culture as a child living abroad, offered countless hours of bonding time with my sister, helped me make friends at a new school, and was even a catalyst for discovering my passion for politics.  As much as I’ve enjoyed the wild and wonderful on-screen places that TV has taken me, the off-screen, real life adventures it inspired have been even more meaningful to me.  I’m thankful for the amazing journey we’ve had, TV and me.  And I’m looking forward to seeing where we go next.