A hot and of­ten heated sub­ject

Di­ver­sity trumped all top­ics. Some net­works han­dled it bet­ter than oth­ers. Much bet­ter.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Mered­ith Blake

Twice a year, the Tele­vi­sion Crit­ics Assn. con­venes in Los Angeles for a twoweek rit­ual known as “press tour” — a seem­ingly end­less se­ries of Q&A ses­sions and cock­tail par­ties where TV net­works, stream­ing ser­vices and other con­tent providers show­case new and re­turn­ing pro­grams for sev­eral hun­dred jour­nal­ists.

Once dom­i­nated by talk of rat­ings and sched­ul­ing strat­egy, the gath­er­ing has lately be­come a venue for net­works to de­fend — or in some cases, boast about — their track records on di­ver­sity. In dozens of pan­els at the sum­mer press tour, which con­cluded Wed­nes­day at the Bev­erly Hilton, jour­nal­ists pep­pered top tele­vi­sion pro­duc­ers and ex­ec­u­tives with ques­tions about race, gen­der, sex­u­al­ity, class, re­li­gion and be­hind-the-scenes rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

The gath­er­ing high­lighted the ex­tent to which the in­dus­try’s en­trenched di­ver­sity prob­lem has come to dom­i­nate the pop cul­ture con­ver­sa­tion and how the public, em­pow­ered by so­cial me­dia and em­bold­ened by ex­am­ples of suc­cess­ful push­back — most no­tably the #Os­carsSoWhite cam­paign — is in­creas­ingly hold­ing Hol­ly­wood ac­count­able.

HBO pro­gram­ming Pres­i­dent Casey Bloys sought to

quell the grow­ing up­roar over “Con­fed­er­ate,” a planned al­ter­nate his­tory drama that would in­clude de­pic­tions of modern-day slav­ery.

“Ev­ery­one un­der­stands there is a high de­gree of get­ting this right,” he said, ex­plain­ing the show would not be “whips and plan­ta­tions.” Soon af­ter, the hash­tag #NoCon­fed­er­ate was trend­ing on Twit­ter as the ac­tivists be­hind #Os­carsSo White tar­geted the still-in-devel­op­ment se­ries, urg­ing users to tweet it at HBO dur­ing air­ings of “Game of Thrones.”

Fol­low­ing a widely shared tweet by star Gil­lian An­der­son, Fox tele­vi­sion chief Dana Walden ad­dressed the crit­i­cism sur­round­ing “The X-Files,” which had just two fe­male di­rec­tors in more than 200 episodes and had no women on its writ­ing staff when it was re­vived last sea­son.

Even ABC, widely seen as broad­cast TV’s most in­clu­sive net­work, was ac­cused of sen­sa­tion­al­iz­ing the sex scan­dal on its re­al­ity se­ries “Bach­e­lor in Par­adise.”

But no one faced more blow­back than CBS, Amer­ica’s most-watched net­work and, to some crit­ics, also its most ret­ro­grade. For the sec­ond sea­son in a row, CBS’ fall slate in­cludes no new shows with fe­male leads, and just one new se­ries, “S.W.A.T.,” fea­tur­ing a per­son of color in a cen­tral role — a mi­nus­cule im­prove­ment over fall 2016, when the net­work un­veiled six new shows about white men.

CBS has also faced crit­i­cism over the de­par­ture of “Hawaii Five-0” cast mem­bers Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park, both of Asian de­scent, who were re­port­edly mak­ing less than their white costars.

At a ses­sion with re­porters last week, the net­work’s newly ap­pointed lead­er­ship team was grilled about its ho­moge­nous pro­gram­ming and the “Hawaii Five-0” pay dis­pute.

“We can de­bate, have a dis­cus­sion about the pace of the change, but there is change hap­pen­ing on CBS,” in­sisted Kelly Kahl, who was named pres­i­dent of CBS En­ter­tain­ment in May and was joined on­stage by Se­nior Ex­ec­u­tive Vice Pres­i­dent of Pro­gram­ming Thom Sher­man.

Some of CBS’ ri­vals, who pre­sented later in the tour, seemed to have their talk­ing points at the ready. As top en­ter­tain­ment ex­ec­u­tives Jen­nifer Salke and Bob Green­blatt fielded ques­tions, NBC an­nounced a new ini­tia­tive for fe­male di­rec­tors spear­headed by pro­lific film­maker Lesli Linka Glat­ter.

In her open­ing re­marks, ABC En­ter­tain­ment Pres­i­dent Chan­ning Dungey touted the “fan­tas­tic” cur­rent sea­son of “The Bach­e­lorette,” the first in the lon­grun­ning re­al­ity fran­chise to fea­ture a black lead.

While con­tentious ex­changes and charges of in­sen­si­tiv­ity are noth­ing new at TCA — a 2012 panel for the CBS sit­com “2 Broke Girls,” dom­i­nated by ques­tions about al­leged eth­nic stereo­typ­ing, lives in infamy — the event’s in­creas­ingly “woke” vibe can be seen as part of a larger trend of push­back against Hol­ly­wood in the wake of #Os­carsSoWhite.

That hash­tag, launched in 2015 by ac­tivist April Reign in re­sponse to the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive crop of all­white act­ing nom­i­nees, not only sparked an in­dus­try­wide con­ver­sa­tion about di­ver­sity but has led to quan­tifi­able change. In June, the academy in­vited a record 774 new mem­bers — 30% peo­ple of color, 39% women. Other re­cent ex­am­ples

of suc­cess­ful push­back abound. Bad press prob­a­bly fac­tored into the dis­mal box of­fice per­for­mance of “Ghost in the Shell,” which was mired in a “white­wash­ing” con­tro­versy over the cast­ing of Scar­lett Jo­hans­son as a Ja­panese char­ac­ter.

The cast­ing of Rachel Lind­say, a 32-year-old African Amer­i­can woman, as the hero­ine of “The Bach­e­lorette” was a break­through reached only af­ter years of sus­tained crit­i­cism from fans and jour­nal­ists. In re­cent years “Satur­day Night Live” has made sim­i­lar ef­forts to di­ver­sify its cast in re­sponse to public scru­tiny.

In con­trast to the slow change of pace in the film world, Peak TV has opened up new op­por­tu­ni­ties for women, peo­ple of color and mem­bers of the LGBTQ com­mu­nity, in shows in­clud­ing Fox’s hip-hop soap opera “Empire” and Ama­zon’s dys­func­tional fam­ily com­edy “Trans­par­ent.”

But the suc­cess of such pro­gram­ming has made the need for im­prove­ment in some ar­eas only more pro­nounced, which may be why ques­tions about rep­re­sen­ta­tion were raised so of­ten.

Pan­els for mil­i­tary-themed shows “Valor” (The CW) and “The Brave” (NBC) in­cluded queries about Mus­lim iden­tity and women in uni­form. Even a dis­cus­sion of the CW’s frothy “Dy­nasty” re­make touched on fem­i­nism, ’80s ho­mo­pho­bia and Venezue­lan politics.

“We want our slate to be in­clu­sive. We want it to be di­verse.… And we be­lieve that we will get that,” CBS’ Sher­man as­sured re­porters.

And if they don’t, they can surely ex­pect more ques­tions.

Chris Pizzello In­vi­sion / As­so­caited Press

SHEMAR MOORE, front and cen­ter, and other cast mem­bers of the new se­ries “S.W.A.T.” on CBS an­swer ques­tions dur­ing the press tour in Bev­erly Hills.

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