CBS, a network that often gets dinged for lack of scripted primetime on-screen diversity, is about to debut an action comedy hour based on the popular movie franchise Rush Hour that featured Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan (In the series, the cops will be played by  Justin Hires and Jon Foo).

On National Public Radio, you’ll likely hear, if you have not already, critical discussion of CBS’s decision to do this series based on a movie series that “took criticism for centering on two characters who were stereotypes”: the “wisecracking black guy” and the “Asian guy with kung fu skills.” During the show’s TCA panel this afternoon, NPR’s TV critic Eric Deggans further dinged CBS for having “not done much” to turn its Rush Hour pilot into a “nuanced discussion about race,” saying the first episode  “feels very stereotypical and…rooted in longstanding stereotypes.”

Hires jumped in to disagree. “I am African American. I am a comedian. I crack jokes. That’s not a stereotype. It’s a reality of who I am as a person,” he said. “I do not think we are showing negative stereotypes on this show. We are showing truths about who America is, and who we are.” Hires noted Fox hit Empire similarly had been criticized by some at the outset.

Deggans pushed back, acknowledging Empire characters may have touched on stereotypes, but came to show “deeper understanding” which, “I don’t necessarily see in this pilot.” While listening to Hires, Deggans said he was particularly interested in hearing what the three “white executive producers [on stage] had to say on the subject.”

EP Bill Lawrence – after saying Deggans was “coming at the question from a very negative angle” designed to put them on the defensive, adding, “that’s your prerogative” – said he was “very proud” of the show’s diversity” both in front of and behind the camera. “You can always do better,” Lawrence acknowledged. If this new series simply repeats the pilot’s “tropes” week after week “not would it offend people like yourself,” he told the TV critics, but the audience wouldn’t respond to the show.  Empire has been on the air a while and therefore the time to “evolve” its characters. If they fail to do same on Rush Hour, “you are not the only person” who would call them on it, Lawrence predicted, calling Deggans’ remarks a “valid question” and welcomed him to ask same question at next year’s TCA.

Earlier, Lawrence noted that in focus group testing, the two biggest “negatives” viewers gave them about the pilot:

  1. The guys aren’t enough like Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan
  2. The guys are too much like Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan

Lawrence said the idea of doing a buddy cop show came first, folllowed by the idea of hanging it on the hit movie franchise. As  FX chief John Landgraf noted, “there are a lot of shows on television now,” Lawrence said, and the hit-movie spin-off concept is a good way to break through the clutter.

CBS has scheduled  Rush Hour at 10 PM Thursday, starting March 31, replacing Elementary which is moving to Sundays beginning March 20.