Kelly Kahl Touts CBS Diversity Gains But Question Plays Second Fiddle To Sex Harassment Debate – TCA

Francis Specker/CBS

CBS Entertainment chief Kelly Kahl is one of few broadcast entertainment division execs to brave a Q&A with TV critics at this summer’s TCA, facing mostly questions about sexual harassment allegations against his company’s CEO/President Les Moonves, CBS News (which Kahl does not oversee), and the possibly record number of investigations into NCIS: New Orleans consulting producer Brad Kern, even as CBS Television Studios inked a new two-year deal with him.

When not defending his company, and, more specfically, CBS’ HR department, Kahl took questions at the semi-annual TCA about casting and hiring diversity at the network.

Last year, at his first CBS Exec Q&A, the newly named Entertainment division president took tough questions about casting diversity and the exit of Hawaii Five–O Asian actors, joined on stage with EVP Thom Sherman.

One critic noted that “until this year…the balance of racial and gender casting” was the biggest question at every CBS TCA executive Q&A. In addition to shows in which the “ethnicity is obvious,” the critic gave CBS credit for casting on two series, Happy Together and God Friended Me, with minority leads. “But gender is still way out of line” with preponderance of male leads, he said, while noting Dick Wolf’s new FBI has a female lead.

“I sat up here last year and told you we were going to do a better job; I believe we have,” Kahl responded. “I’m very proud of what we have done. We have [CBS] record levels of diverse actors on our show,” adding that it’s the same for directors and writers.

“I’m very proud of that fact,” he added.

“We’re not done; I’m not patting myself on the back,” the long-time CBS exec continued. “We have a lot of work to do but we’ve made great strides.”

Casting diversity makes good business sense for a broadcast network trying to appeal to “that broad audience,” Kahl said, mirroring remarks made at other broadcast networks.

One journalist in the room wanted Kahl to give the group, and the scorching they gave him last year, credit for the network’s recent diversity gains.

“To be honest with you, we’re happy to discuss with you, but plans were in place before we sat down here,” Kahl said, bursting that critic’s bubble.

“I welcome the opportunity to broaden our audience. We sat and talked with you, and said we would do a better job. And I think we have done a better job.”

CBS has four new series with African American/Latino leads, though its primetime slate remains heavily male lead-focused, as most pilots featuring female leads did not make it past series pick-up season.
At last year’s contentious exec panel, Kahl insisted “change is happening at CBS,” noting the network had two shows with “diverse leads” that were not on previous season’s schedule and touting that the gay character leading a CBS mid-season show, saying “We are absolutely moving in the right direction.”

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