This article has been updated to reflect an additional statement made by Peter Lenkov, showrunner of Magnum P.I.
It’s no secret that Hollywood has a diversity problem, and for CBS, this is something they’ve been asked to address for the past few years. This year proves no different despite appearances to the contrary. During the Television Critics Association summer press tour, the troubled network highlighted their upcoming slate of shows set to premiere this season, many with diverse casts like the CBS All Access psychological thriller Tell Me A Story which stars Dania Ramirez and the sitcom God Friended Me with Joe Morton and Brandon Michael Hall in leading roles. But then, there’s the reboot of the ’80s hit Magnum P.I. The new series stars Mexican-American actor Jay Hernandez in the iconic titular role, which is a big stride for representation except for one thing – it’s only in front of the camera. During the TCA panel for the reboot, when I asked Showrunner Peter Lenkov and Executive Producer Eric Guggenheim, whether Hernandez’s ethnicity would influence how this version of Magnum is portrayed, Guggenheim stuttered his way through replying “Well, we’re certainly not denying the fact that he’s Latino. But, uh, it is something that is acknowledged and we plan to acknowledge it throughout the series.”
When I pressed as to whether or not there where any Latinx writers in the Magnum P.I. writers’ room, Lenkov, who recently faced backlash for the lack of representation on Hawaii Five-0, replied, “No, but it’s not for any reason other than, you know, when you’re doing a show, staffing a show, it’s incredibly hard to find writers.” And quickly tried to recover by stating that although they have no Latinx writers, they do “Have a very diverse writers’ room” which he later clarified consisted of four men and three women.
Magnum P.I. is following the latest trend in Hollywood where a network reboots a classic show, fills it with diverse casts but then omits how their ethnicity influences or changes the characters they now embody. Representation doesn’t mean just slapping a Latinx or person of color in a role and calling it a day. The only way Latinx and other people of color will have their stories reflected is by having representation not just on the screen, but also in the writers’ rooms, directors’ chairs, and amongst the crew members, executives and beyond. Anything less is just tokenism.
Twitter was quick to react to Lenkov and Guggenheim’s comments.
EP Eric Guggenheim is asked if there are any Latinx writers in the #MagnumPI room. Guggenheim says they don't deny Hernandez's heritage. Lenkov says there are not Latinx writers in the room because it's hard to find writers. (good god.) #TCA18
— Diane Gordon (@thesurfreport) August 5, 2018
— Danette Todd Chavez (@BonMotVivant) August 5, 2018
— Linda Ge (@lindazge) August 5, 2018
Funny! We’ve heard this one before. That’s why we’ve been preparing #Latinx writers for this with our #WritersProgram. It’s been going on since 2003. 15 years of them being easy to find. We’ve got a whole list of #Latinx writers you can pull from, @PLenkov. @MagnumPICBS @CBS https://t.co/VhZX5GKI5E
— NHMC (@NHMC) August 6, 2018
Showrunners, writers, and talent from other shows added their opinions on Lenkov’s claim that it’s “incredibly hard” to find Latino writers.
I have a list (which I haven’t updated since I staffed my 1st season) comprised of 152 Latinx TV writers & their samples. And I know there are more. You just have to look. We exist! Access and opportunity has not come so easy for us — but we out here. https://t.co/tP9hgXbebX
— Tanya Saracho (@TanyaSaracho) August 6, 2018
psst it's only hard if you don't actually look https://t.co/DwuByCrmVC
— Mike Royce (@MikeRoyce) August 6, 2018
Noooo! There are incredible Latinx writers! You just have to care to look. I mean…not one?!?
— Gloria Calderón Kellett (@everythingloria) August 6, 2018
Peter, there's also the Latina TV Writers Group, which I'm proud to be a member of. We have 60+ writers in it. There's a misconception in Hollywood that we don't exist. We do, in all areas & at all levels. If you're interested in that list, here it is: https://t.co/V0Q8MA6nuf https://t.co/oboI2JOu2Y
— Ligiah Villalobos (@JalapenoFilms) August 6, 2018
Gustavo, do you know how hard it is to google? The letters L-a-t-i-n-(a or o or x) are only for people with fancy things called keyboards. Sure there were four Latino writers in my show but that took me about a whole hour to find them. (seriously though, what a thing to say)
— Cristela Alonzo (@cristela9) August 6, 2018
UPDATE 8/7/2018: Magnum P.I. showrunner Peter Lenkov made additional comments on Twitter, saying that he spoke in error and that the show does employ a Latina writer. We asked CBS for additional details on this writer but were not provided with information to independently verify Lenkov’s statement.
— Peter M. Lenkov (@PLenkov) August 6, 2018