CBS is launching Drama Diversity Casting Initiative, a nationwide program to find breakout new talent for the network’s pilots and current series.
The initiative is designed to complement CBS’ long-running Diversity Sketch Comedy Showcase whose 12th edition will be held in January. It is part of CBS’ stepped-up efforts to bring more diversity to its series. “We need to do better,” CBS Entertainment president Glenn Geller acknowledged at TCA in August when pressed about the fact that all of the network’s fall shows have white male leads.
The CBS Drama Diversity Casting Initiative is primarily focused on finding trained acting talent from underrepresented groups — African American, Asian American, Latino, Native American, Pacific Islander, LGBTQ actors and performers with disabilities — who live in areas with limited access to television executives and casting directors.
Between today, Oct. 13, and Oct. 28, actors 18 and older can submit a self-taped monologue here. The tapes will be reviewed by CBS casting executives who will invite a number of performers to regional callback auditions in Atlanta (Nov. 7-9), Austin (Nov. 3-4), Chicago (Nov. 2-4), Miami (Nov. 10-11) and San Francisco (Nov. 10-11). There the actors will rehearse with casting executives and be put on tape. Of those filmed, 14-16 actors will be selected to travel to Los Angeles for network screen tests that will be submitted for CBS pilots and ongoing series this season.
“I think some valid points were made at TCA,” Geller said. “This outreach is a real opportunity for CBS to discover actors located across the country, outside of Los Angeles and New York, who haven’t had the chance to meet or be seen by network casting executives. The goal is to broaden the existing talent pool for dramas.”
While the leads of all new fall CBS series are white, in midseason the network has newly picked up comedy Superior Donuts, starring Jermaine Fowler, and drama based on the movie Training Day starring Justin Cornwell.
Geller noted that Cornwell had not been on anyone’s radar and landed the starring role after submitting a self-tape. “We know there are great actors who need access and opportunity to be seen.”
He pointed to the success of CBS’ diversity comedy showcase whose alums include Emmy winner Kate McKinnon (Saturday Night Live), Justin Hires (Rush Hour, MacGyver), Geoffrey Arend (Madam Secretary), Eugene Codero (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend), and Masi Oka (Heroes, Hawaii Five-O).
Geller also noted that while these are not lead roles, of the 17 new series regulars added to CBS series since the May upfronts, 12 are diverse.
At TCA in August, CBS also was called out over the fact that none of the showrunners on the new fall series is a person of color. While increasing diversity among the top writer-producer ranks is still work in process, something the network is working on, CBS has made major strides in directing.
The September DGA diversity report ranked CBS’ studio operation No.1 among major TV studios. It had the smallest percentage of episodes directed by male Caucasian directors (59%) and the largest percentage helmed by women or minority directors (41%).
In addition to the Comedy and Drama Showcases, the CBS Diversity Institute includes the CBS Writers Mentoring Program, the CBS Directing Initiative, actor workshops conducted nationwide, as well as writer workshops conducted in Los Angeles.