CBS Defends Lack Of Diversity In Fall Lineup, Says High Female Viewers Prove ‘We Do Fine’
CBS’s white male-focused programming drew criticism in 2016, and it’s happening again this year with fresh criticism over lack of diversity in the fall lineup.
CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves defended his network’s male-leaning new programming to reporters, according to Hollywood Reporter.
“More women watch CBS percentage-wise than any other network so our shows have a lot of female appeal,” Moonves said, singling out Tea Leoni vehicle “Madam Secretary,” and “Elementary,” co-starring Lucy Liu. “I don’t think we’ve ever had to apologize for having ‘Madam Secretary’ and Lucy Liu and (CBS All Access digital series) ‘The Good Fight’ and (the since-canceled) ‘The Good Wife,’ and I think we do fine in that area.”
This season, CBS picked up seven new comedies and dramas: “By the Book” starring Jay R. Ferguson; Instinct with Alan Cumming; “Me, Myself and I” with lead Bobby Moynihan; “9JKL” with Mark Feuerstein; “SEAL Team” with David Boreanaz; “SWAT” starring Shemar Moore and Jay Harrington; “Wisdom of the Crowd” with Jeremy Piven; and “Big Bang Theory” prequel Young Sheldon, starring youngster Iain Armitage as the younger version of Jim Parsons’ Sheldon and Zoe Perry.
Returning CBS shows that feature minority leads include “Scorpion” (Elyes Gabel), “NCIS: Los Angeles” (LL Cool J) and “Superior Donuts” (Jermaine Fowler).
The 2016 CBS fall schedule featured six new shows all starring white men — in contrast to other broadcast networks which were launching series with people of color in leading roles, L.A. Times reported. At the time, entertainment president Glenn Geller said that the 2016-2017 CBS lineup was more diverse than the previous year but acknowledged that the network needed to improve casting black people in starring roles: “Look, we need to do better, and we know it,” he said.
Since Geller had a recent heart attack, Moonves and other senior network executives have been more involved in programming decisions for the upcoming season.
CBS has been continually blasted by viewers and advocacy groups for its formula of casting mostly white actors in leading roles while nonwhites are largely relegated to supporting characters, L.A. Times reported. They charge that CBS, which touts itself as “America’s Most Watched Network,” does not accurately reflect the look of America.
Moonves told reporters Wednesday that CBS does a number of pilots, a lot of with women in starring roles. “There are a lot of women in the schedule, in this new schedule,” he said.
CBS launched a new diversity casting initiative for its dramas in October 2016, focusing on finding talent outside of Los Angeles and New York, The Wrap reported.
At the time, Geller promised reporters that CBS would be addressing the lack of diversity. CBS said it was looking for African American, Asian American, Latino, Native American, Pacific Islander, LGBTQ actors and performers with disabilities to join current series and upcoming pilots. The search was to culminate with a network screen test in L.A.
So what happened?
Traditionally, the view in advertising and TV has been that if content focuses on one race or ethnicity, it will alienate other races, Forbes reported. “In an America that has systematically favored and predominately been made up of whites, that meant TV shows focusing on black characters and their experiences as African Americans were few and far between.”
New research from Nielsen shows this is just a myth. Programs with predominantly black casts or black leads get substantial viewership from non-African Americans.
ABC’s “Black-ish,” for example, has drawn 79 percent non-black viewership this season and consistently posts high ratings with an average of 5.4 million viewers per episode, Forbes reported. HBO’s “Insecure,” based on Issa Rae’s Web series “The Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl,” garners a 61.5 percent non-black audience. The TV series “Atlanta” is almost evenly split between black and white viewers.
Shows that have majority black audiences like “Empire” and “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” still get significant non-black audiences of 37.2 percent and 34.6 percent, respectively.
“TV and movie studios tend to be behind the curve because they are so concerned about spending money without people viewing it,” said Miro Copic, a cofounder of Bottom Line Marketing and professor of marketing at San Diego State University, in a Forbes interview.
“The notion that consumers and viewers would be resistant to seeing a show with main characters that are African American or another ethnicity is finally starting to decline.”
Other networks have addressed diversity issues with greater success, New York Post reported. They got the memo that audiences want to see the worlds they live in reflected on the shows they watch.
It’s not a new phenomenon that TV programs with black leads have drawn non-black audiences. Think of “The Jeffersons,” “Sanford and Son” and “The Cosby Show.” What’s unusual now is the sheer number of such programs that are carrying cross-cultural appeal, according to the Nielsen report.
In 2016, CBS’s Geller insisted, “we are definitely moving in the right direction.”
CBS renewed five freshman shows from its 2016-2017 lineup, according to The Hollywood Reporter. All five feature male leads, four of whom are white.
Sign up for the Moguldom newsletter — the most compelling business news you need to know about reversing inequality in tech, delivered straight to your inbox.