'Fresh Off the Boat' Celebrates 100! Creator Reflects on the Show's Groundbreaking Legacy (Exclusive)

As the groundbreaking ABC comedy reaches 100 episodes, showrunner Nahnatchka Khan opens up about the show's cultural impact.

When  Fresh Off the Boat airs season five's penultimate episode on Friday, it won't be just any other episode. It will be the groundbreaking family comedy's 100th, a coveted television milestone that affirms its longevity, success and, in Fresh Off the Boat's case, deep cultural impact. Based on chef and restaurateur Eddie Huang's best-selling 2013 memoir, the 1990s-set half-hour, single-camera series debuted on ABC in February 2015 with Constance Wu and Randall Park playing parents, Jessica and Louis, to three young sons -- Eddie (Hudson Yang), Evan (Ian Chen) and Emery (Forrest Wheeler) -- who relocate from Washington, D.C., to Orlando, Florida, to open a cowboy-themed steakhouse. Their efforts to integrate into a community with a largely non-Asian population becomes the root of the series' comedic hijinks.

To a large degree, Fresh Off the Boat represented a pivotal step forward in inclusive storytelling for Asians in mainstream America. It just took a few years for Hollywood to catch up. A few years later, 2018 became a crucial turning point for Asian American representation in movies and television, thanks to successes on every level -- both big (Crazy Rich Asians, To All the Boys I've Loved Before, Killing Eve) and not-as-big (Searching, Burning). As Fresh Off the Boat celebrates its historic 100th episode, which makes it the first Asian American series to accomplish such a feat, creator and showrunner Nahnatchka Khan, who is Iranian American, reflects on its legacy and place in the TV record books.

Constance Wu, Randall Park, Hudson Yang, Forrest Wheeler and Ian Chen between takes during filming of the pilot in 2015. - ABC

Feb. 4, 2015. We find out from ABC this will be our premiere date. Four is an unlucky number in Chinese culture, so one of our executive producers Melvin Mar immediately leaves the 20th Century Fox lot to burn incense and perform a ritual to combat it. I learn our regular time slot will be 8 p.m. Tuesdays. Our lead-in will be Wheel of Fortune.

At this time, there are no scripted comedies on Tuesday nights on ABC. After us, at 8:30 p.m., will be a new hidden-camera show called Repeat After Me, based on a bit from Ellen DeGeneres’ talk show. Then Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. at 9 p.m.

We’re ready.

April 5, 2019. The 100th episode of Fresh Off the Boat will air. It’s a milestone for any show, such a hard number to reach, almost impossible now given how the entire television industry has been upended in the four years since we premiered. Four, there’s that number again. No one could have possibly predicted that A. We’d still be on the air, B. 20th would now be owned by Disney, and C. Everyone has pretty much acknowledged that streaming is the future. Only one of those things I have any control over.  

Fresh Off the Boat will be syndicated. This show and these characters will live forever in the pantheon of classic family sitcoms. Years and years from now, the kids on our show, Hudson, Forrest and Ian, could be sitting with their kids, flicking through streaming options on their virtual tablets and come across Fresh Off the Boat. And they’ll tell them how it originally aired on what we used to call televisions.

We’re ready.

Constance Wu and guest star Ming-Na Wen during a season five episode of 'Fresh Off the Boat.' - ABC

In the time between our premiere and our 100th episode so many things have changed -- for the people involved, to the business, in the world around us. For sure in the world around us. But one thing that’s remained consistent is our objective: to entertain and succeed on a big stage by centering the stories of those who have been in the margins.

We’ve been able to show an audience a television family who looks like them and reflects their experiences. And we’ve also shown an audience a family they might not have known in their everyday lives, but whose struggles they can relate to because they are universal and specific at the same time. We’ve shown the immigrant experience, dealt with racism (casual and not), the influence of hip-hop culture, assimilation, the pressure of representation, choosing your American name, the idea that some New Year’s don’t happen in January, Success Perms, Lao Ban Santas, Melrose Place, Stephen King, the American dream and the Asian Flush. The list goes on. So many stories told by talented writers, brought to life by an amazing cast, made possible by an incredible crew. Oh, and the City of Los Angeles and Mayor Eric Garcetti declared May 2 Fresh Off the Boat Day.

That’s the big-picture story. Then there are the snapshots, the small moments that don’t make it into the articles or the stories or the speeches. Rewrites in the writers’ room, laughing between takes on set, late nights in the edit bay throwing a ball up to see how close you can get it to the ceiling without actually hitting the ceiling. And like, this moment right here, from season one, when Ian wanted a smoothie but had forgotten the cover-up T-shirt he was supposed to wear between set-ups to keep his wardrobe clean, so Forrest let him use his. 

Ian Chen and Forrest Wheeler on the set of 'Fresh Off the Boat' during season one. - Nahnatchka Khan

I mean, look at those pictures. What are we even doing?

April 12, 2019. The season five finale, the 101st episode of our series, will air. Our time slot is now Fridays 8 p.m. But really, most people watch at their convenience, on demand or via streaming. Who knows what the future will hold, but looking back on the journey, I feel so extremely proud of what we’ve accomplished. Our show helped open a door that’s been pushed open even further by the shows and movies that have come after us, and will be thrown open even wider by the stories that have yet to be told.  

We’re ready.

To quote the Notorious B.I.G. from the end of the first Fresh Off the Boat episode: “And if you don’t know, now you know.”

Nahnatchka Khan is the creator, executive producer and showrunner of Fresh Off the Boat. She previously created Don't Trust the B----- in Apartment 23. Fresh Off the Boat airs its landmark 100th episode on Friday, April 5 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.