“If nothing else, we’ve lasted longer than the Mooch, right?,” CBS’ new entertainment president Kelly Kahl quipped while he and EVP Thom Sherman were taking their seats on stage for their first TCA executive session weeks into their jobs as new leaders of CBS, succeeding Glenn Geller.
Following that opening joke, the conversation quickly turned very serious and sometimes contentious as the issue that had dominated CBS’ TCA executive sessions for the past couple of years — diversity — once again was front and center.
For a second consecutive year, all new series picked up by CBS have male leads, something CBS traditionally has been known for. “CBS did develop female shows and did six pilots with female leads but those pilots were not felt to be as good (as those that were picked up),” Sherman said. He brought up his track record over the years of developing shows like Lost, Grey’s Anatomy, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Jane the Virgin and The Flash, “some of which can be held up as a standard of inclusive programming.”
Sherman spoke of recent meetings he and his development team held with the Hollywood talent agencies in which they spoke of CBS “expanding the palate of what we do” next season. “We said to them, please tell your clients ‘don’t censor yourselves. Don’t assume you know what a CBS show is, bring us your passion projects’.” Sherman added that by casting a wider net, they hope to catch more diverse voices and increase diversity on the network.
Going back to this past development season, a critic noted that two CBS pilots cast Caucasian actors in roles written as minority, asking whether the fact that CBS’ casting department consists entirely of white executives has something to do with such decisions.
Kahl contended that “I personally don’t think that has anything to do with it, noting that CBS head of casting Peter Golden and his team “have been together for a long time.” “They have cast many, many diverse roles.”
Added Sherman, “They have been together for long time in that department but we are cognizant of the issue. We hear you and are looking to expand the casting department.”
There were multiple questions about the controversial exits of Hawaii Five-0‘s two Asian co-stars, Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park, who sought parity with the show’s white leads, Alex O’Loughlin and Scott Caan, and left after not getting equal pay.
“We never like to lose characters audiences love but that happens on long-running series,” Kahl said. “We made very lucrative offers to those actors,” he said, declining to comment on the size of the offers and how they compare to the salaries of O’Loughlin and Caan. It is understood that Kim and Park, whose roles had been conceived as supporting and had been making less from the get-go as they were less known than O’Loughlin and Caan at the time, were offered close to but not equal to what the two leads are making.
Despite the criticism, “change is happening at CBS,” Kahl said. “We have two shows with diverse leads that we did not have on the schedule last year and a midseason show’s lead character is gay. Over the last few years, diverse series regulars are up almost 60 percent. The numbers of diverse writers and directors are up, so are reality contestants. So we are absolutely moving in the right direction.”