PRODUCER EYES BETTER TV, FILM ROLES FOR MUSLIMS
When Labid Aziz of Natick thinks about "Never Mind Nirvana," he sees a missed opportunity. A 2004 pilot for an NBC sitcom, it was centered on the travails of an Indian-American doctor, his pregnant white girlfriend, and his traditional parents, who move in. It was written by Indian-American novelist Ajay Sahgal, directed by "Friends" star David Schwimmer, and starred Kal Penn of "Harold and Kumar go to White Castle." But the show didn't make NBC's final cut, losing out that year to "The Office" and "Joey."
South Asians like Aziz, 32, a Bangladeshi-American Muslim and aspiring producer, saw in "Nirvana" a wellspring of roles that didn't involve playing a terrorist or convenience store clerk while portraying the South Asian community, or a slice of it, in a way that might inspire empathy rather than incite resentment. On this fall's schedule, Aziz has a second opportunity: The CW network is unveiling a new sitcom called "Aliens in America" about a Muslim exchange student from Pakistan.
In Aziz's view, Americans are ready for a prime-time television show featuring dignified South Asian characters. It's just that most television executives are too conservative to try it, he said.
"If they think a show with a certain cast is going to hinder viewers, why would they do it?" said Aziz. "But that's from their perspective. I think it can work."