last year, after seven seasons on Hawaii Five-0, Daniel Dae Kim parted ways with CBS following a much-publicized salary dispute that pitted him and the series’s other Asian-American star against the network, which presumably had paid their two white co-stars more money. CBS’s loss was rival network ABC’s gain. Since 2013, Kim had been working on a U.S. adaptation of a medical drama that was popular in South Korea, where he was born. CBS passed on the series twice, so the actor turned producer took it to ABC and got a green light. The Good Doctor is now TV’s highest-rated new drama, with an average of 17 million viewers, besting such network juggernauts as CBS’s NCIS and NBC’s This Is Us.
If this were a breakup, Kim would have won, but he’s too gracious to put it that way. “My departure from Hawaii Five-0 was a very difficult time for me,” he says cautiously, from his home in Hawaii. “But throughout that experience, I realized the value of being able to create worlds, as opposed to being asked to participate in someone else’s.” At ABC, he’s now in the type of meetings he didn’t get to sit in on before. “As an actor, I was often shielded from the big-picture decisions,” Kim says. “But as a producer, I experience all the conversations where there’s pushback or a difference of opinion.” It’s also become impossible for him to shrug off high-level decisions as the vagaries of “the powers that be.”
“In some sense, I am now considered one of the powers that be,” he says. “The responsibility that comes along with that is significant, and it’s one I don’t take lightly.”
Kim’s Hawaii Five-0 exit prompted tough questions about CBS’s commitment to racial diversity. The Good Doctor is diverse without being about diversity—it’s centered on a brilliant, autistic resident with savant syndrome, played by Bates Motel’s Freddie Highmore—a point Kim notes with satisfaction. “In the world of a hospital . . . when you go in there, you don’t talk to the doctors about how diverse the hospital is!” The very idea makes him laugh.