CBS ex­ecs grilled over di­ver­sity

Net­work ex­ec­u­tives face ques­tions about shows lack­ing women and peo­ple of color.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Greg Brax­ton

CBS may be the reign­ing broad­cast net­work, with the most to­tal view­ers for nine sea­sons run­ning, but the net­work’s en­ter­tain­ment pres­i­dent Kelly Kahl and se­nior ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of pro­gram­ming Thom Sher­man quickly found them­selves in de­fense mode at the sum­mer edi­tion of the Tele­vi­sion Crit­ics Assn. press tour in Bev­erly Hills on Tues­day.

Dur­ing their ex­ec­u­tive ses­sion Kahl and Sher­man faced a buzz saw of ques­tions and crit­i­cism over the net­work's con­tin­ued lack of progress over cast­ing peo­ple of color and women in lead­ing and key roles on its come­dies and dra­mas.

Of the net­work’s six new shows, just one — “SWAT” — fea­tures a mi­nor­ity lead, and none fea­tures a woman in a lead­ing role.

Although the ex­ec­u­tives in­sisted that di­ver­sity is an im­por­tant is­sue for the net­work and that they have made strides on that front, they con­tin­ued to be pep­pered with queries by re­porters who said CBS has con­sis­tently shown lit­tle in-

ter­est dur­ing the last sev­eral years in cast­ing mi­nori­ties in lead roles.

The tense ex­changes marked the sec­ond time in two years that CBS has come un­der fire on its di­ver­sity record dur­ing the press tour. Even with its new lineup, CBS has the low­est num­ber of mi­nor­ity leads among broad­cast net­works and is the only broad­cast net­work to not have a se­ries built around a fam­ily of color.

“We want our slate to be in­clu­sive. We want it to be di­verse,” Sher­man said. “We want all sorts of pro­gram­ming. … And we be­lieve that we will get that.”

“With all due re­spect, we hear that all the time,” said one re­porter, who pointed out that other net­works, stu­dios and pro­duc­tion com­pa­nies have made con­certed ef­forts in pro­mot­ing mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism.

Added the re­porter, “Isn't it time now for you to re­ally fo­cus on that and say, ‘We won't ad­vance an­other fall slate that doesn't have a show that stars a woman?’ ”

Sher­man said that the net­work last sea­son had de­vel­oped six pi­lots with fe­male leads, but none of the se­ries ap­par­ently met the stan­dard to make it to air.

“But that had noth­ing to do with the fe­male leads,” Sher­man said. “They were fan­tas­tic. That's just the cy­cle of busi­ness, and that's how it hap­pens some­times.”

In the same vein, Kahl and Sher­man were grilled on the net­work’s de­ci­sion to not of­fer salary par­ity to two Asian cast mem­bers of “Hawaii Five-0,” Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park, who sub­se­quently left the show.

“We made very, very strong at­tempts to keep them and of­fered them a lot of money to stick around,” said Kahl, not­ing that many long-run­ning shows lose cast mem­bers and that CBS did not want the ac­tors to leave.

At one point, the ex­ec­u­tives — who in­her­ited the up­com­ing fall slate from pre­vi­ous CBS en­ter­tain­ment pres­i­dent Glenn Geller, who stepped down ear­lier this year — ap­peared caught of­f­guard when one re­porter pointed out that the net­work's cast­ing de­part­ments on both coasts are all white.

“Is that why why you've had trou­ble cast­ing peo­ple of color in lead­ing roles on the CBS net­work?” the re­porter asked.

Kahl praised Peter Golden, ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of tal­ent and cast­ing, and said, “I per­son­ally don't think that has any­thing to do with it. Peter and his team have been to­gether a long time. They're fan­tas­tic at what they do.” Kahl later added, “We are cog­nizant of the is­sue ... and we will be look­ing to ex­pand the cast­ing de­part­ment.”

Asked why a cre­ator of a project that show­cased the di­ver­sity of Amer­ica would be in­clined to pitch CBS given the net­work's slow move on that front, Kahl seemed taken aback.

“To be hon­est with you, I'm not ex­actly even sure how to ad­dress that,” he said. Af­ter a pause, he said, “I will say again, I think you've seen a lot of di­ver­sity on CBS over the years, go­ing way, way back into our past.”

When pressed on the net­work’s rel­a­tive lack of progress when com­pared with that of other net­works, Kahl said he be­lieved CBS is mov­ing in the right di­rec­tion.

“We have two shows with di­verse leads this year that we didn't have on the sched­ule last year,” he said. “We have a mid­sea­son show with a lead char­ac­ter who's gay. And over the last few years, if you look at the num­ber of di­verse se­ries reg­u­lars, that's up al­most 60%. The num­ber of writ­ers we have from di­verse back­grounds is up over the last few years, as are di­rec­tors. We can have a dis­cus­sion about the pace of the change, but there is change hap­pen­ing at CBS.”

The net­work’s per­ceived lack of progress has come un­der more scru­tiny in the shadow of the #Os­cars SoWhite con­tro­versy that sparked a furor two years ago.

greg.brax­ton@la­times.com

Buck­ner/Rex Shut­ter­stock

CBS’ “Hawaii Five-0” lost ac­tors Grace Park and Daniel Dae Kim.

Cliff Lip­son CBS

KELLY KAHL, CBS En­ter­tain­ment pres­i­dent

Joe Mag­nani

THOM SHER­MAN, pro­gram­ming ex­ec­u­tive

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