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‘Hawaii Five-0’ cast departures highlight racial wage gap in TV

Daniel Dae Kim, pictured, and his co-star Grace Park quit “Hawaii Five-0” after reportedly being offered less than their white co-stars. (Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)
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When “Hawaii Five-0” returns to CBS this fall, it’ll be short two original cast members.

Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park, who starred on the 2010 reboot for seven seasons, left the show last weekend amid rumors of unsuccessful salary negotiations with the network. Variety reported on Friday that the actors, both of Korean descent, were offered 10 to 15 percent less than co-stars Scott Caan and Alex O’Loughlin, both white men. Kim confirmed on Facebook on Wednesday morning that it was his own decision to quit.

“Though I made myself available to come back,” Kim wrote, “CBS and I weren’t able to agree to terms on a new contract, so I made the difficult choice not to continue.”

Daniel Dae Kim’s hopeful message after ‘Hawaii Five-0’ pay dispute

Actors of color have long fought for equal treatment in Hollywood, with the conversation generally surrounding representation on-screen. In television, stars such as Gina Rodriguez of The CW’s “Jane the Virgin” and Constance Wu of ABC’s “Fresh Off the Boat” have voiced their support of diverse casting and story lines. But the exits of Kim and Park exit highlights a facet of the struggle addressed less often — pay inequity.

Inequitable salaries among film and television actors have been a hot topic in recent years, although the focus has generally been on gender rather than race. Kim’s and Park’s departures arguably call into question how much the network valued the Asian actors. And these examples are just the tip of the iceberg.

Variety released estimates last October of how much the highest-paid actors on TV earn, based on “a wide survey” of professionals in the industry. Kaley Cuoco, Johnny Galecki and Jim Parsons of CBS’s “The Big Bang Theory” topped the comedy chart, at $1 million an episode. Only one of the top 15 comedy actors was not white — Dwayne Johnson, who is half black and half Samoan, was listed at $400,000 for each episode of HBO’s “Ballers.”

A similar situation occurred with drama actors, with Alexis Bledel and Lauren Graham of Netflix’s “Gilmore Girls” revival topping the chart at $750,000 an episode. The highest-ranking drama actor of color, 23rd on the list, was Viola Davis, with $250,000 per episode of ABC’s “How to Get Away With Murder.”

Yes, these are six-figure numbers, and it’s fair to assume that most of the actors on Variety’s lists make more money than they could possibly need. But the salaries ascribe a certain value to the actors within the industry, especially in an era when the business side of entertainment is much more visible.

The six-person cast of NBC’s “Friends” famously earned $1 million each per episode during the final season, a paycheck actress Lisa Kudrow defended to HuffPost a few years ago. The salary level makes proportional sense when “the show is actually generating an enormous amount of money” and the actors contribute to character-driven story lines, she said.

This reasoning rings true with CBS, which, according to Deadline, finished the 2016-17 TV season as the nation’s “most-watched network” for the ninth year in a row. The six “Friends” starred in each of the show’s 236 episodes and earned the same salary in their last season, whereas Kim and Park earned less in their seventh season than Caan and O’Loughlin. The four have each been in all 168 episodes of “Hawaii Five-0.”

Caan was part of the gang in the “Ocean’s” movies, but O’Loughlin only dabbled in a few TV series before “Hawaii Five-0.” Kim and Park were regulars on “Lost” and the 2004 “Battlestar Galactica” series, respectively — notable achievements, especially in an industry with a history of whitewashing or overlooking Asian and Pacific Islander stories.

In a statement reported by the Hollywood Reporter on Wednesday, CBS noted that it did offer Kim and Park raises. (The network made no mention of the final salary offers matching those of Caan and O’Loughlin, though.)

“Daniel and Grace have been important and valued members of ‘Hawaii Five-0’ for seven seasons,” the statement reads. “We did not want to lose them and tried very hard to keep them with offers for large and significant salary increases. While we could not reach an agreement, we part ways with tremendous respect for their talents on screen, as well as their roles as ambassadors for the show off screen, and with hopes to work with them again in the near future.”

Kim, who will produce the upcoming ABC drama “The Good Doctor,” struck a hopeful tone in his Facebook post.

“I’ll end by saying that though transitions can be difficult, I encourage us all to look beyond the disappointment of this moment to the bigger picture,” Kim wrote. “The path to equality is rarely easy. But I hope you can be excited for the future.”