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TCA 2014: CBS chief Nina Tassler grilled on casting diversity

CBS chief grilled on lack of diversity at press tour session
CBS' Nina Tassler says 'everything will work out' for 'Big Bang Theory' contract renewal

CBS may be America’s most popular network, but critics claim its new fall lineup doesn’t reflect America.

The chairwoman of CBS Entertainment faced tough questioning about diversity during a Thursday meeting with reporters at the TCA press tour in Beverly Hills. Critics attacked CBS for almost exclusively programming shows with large white casts but token or nonexistent minority representation.

“When we talk about diversity, we talk about the entire breadth of the network, not just one genre,” network chief Nina Tassler said in response to the criticisms.

She pointed out that the star of the sci-fi thriller “Extant” — which topped the ratings for its premiere last week — is Halle Berry, a black Oscar winner. Lucy Liu, who costars in the Sherlock Holmes update “Elementary,” was also mentioned, as were other elements of CBS’ lineup.

“‘The Talk’ is one of the most diverse shows in daytime,” said Tassler, who attempted to move critics past looking at the fall shows, which she tacitly conceded may not paint the best picture of the network’s diversity efforts. That lineup includes “Madam Secretary,” a political/family drama starring Téa Leoni, as well as an “NCIS” spinoff headed by Scott Bakula.

“We have one of the biggest stars in the entire universe in one of our shows this summer,” she said, referring to Berry and “Extant.” “We don’t look at fall as the defining mark” of diversity.

A critic rebutted the point by noting that aside from Berry, the show’s other principal characters are all white.

Diversity has been a frequent topic of discussion at the press tour this summer. Earlier this week, ABC Entertainment President Paul Lee discussed his network’s efforts and criticized the prevalence of series with all-white casts. “America doesn’t look like that anymore,” he said.

Meanwhile, Tassler predicted a resolution for the contract talks that have cast a cloud over the network’s biggest comedy hit, “The Big Bang Theory.” The sitcom is supposed to resume production at the end of July but the main cast members are currently without deals.

“I just love being able to answer these questions year after year,” Tassler said with a note of sarcasm after being asked about the trouble. “We’re feeling very confident that everything will work out.”

Another issue CBS is still working out is the precise timing of its late-night handoff.

Sometime next year, David Letterman will retire after more than 20 years on “The Late Show” and Stephen Colbert will take his place.

Colbert will retire his Comedy Central character — a pompous, obtuse conservative TV host — but keep interviews in the CBS show. Beyond that, he and the network are beginning to have discussions as to what shape the show will take.

“Will he have a band, will he not have a band? He’s thinking about all of those things,” Tassler said.

As for the 12:35 a.m. show currently hosted by the soon-to-be-leaving Craig Ferguson, it’s up for grabs. CBS is keeping an open mind about hosts and formats, even possibly ditching the desk-and-chairs interview setup.

“Would there be rotating hosts?,” Tassler asked rhetorically. “That’s always a conversation.”

Twitter: @scottcollinsLAT

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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