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CBS tries to turn the page on Moonves harassment scandal at TCA

Sonequa Martin-Green
At the Television Critics Assn. winter press tour, CBS shows with diverse casts and production teams were front and center. Sonequa Martin-Green plays the lead in “Star Trek Discovery.”
(Willy Sanjuan / Invision/AP)

The reputation of CBS has taken a beating over the harassment and assault allegations that led to the ouster of its longtime leader Leslie Moonves.

That may explain why the network did not put its current leadership onstage Wednesday during its sessions at the Television Critics Assn. winter press tour in Pasadena. They probably would have been swarmed with questions about Moonves, who was forced to resign Sept. 9 amid claims of sexual misconduct against multiple women.

For the record:
3:15 PM, Jan. 31, 2019 A previous version of this story erroneously called Brad Kern executive producer of “NCIS: Los Angeles.” He held that title on “NCIS: New Orleans.”

But producers and actors who did appear to promote their shows, along with executives willing to speak on condition of anonymity, acknowledged seeing a corporate-driven effort to create a more hospitable work environment after the harassment scandal tarnished the company’s reputation. Moonves has denied allegations of misconduct against him.

“We had the group seminars and the professionals come in,” said Cedric the Entertainer, star of the CBS sitcom “The Neighborhood.” “It definitely feels like a place that is moving in the right direction.”

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Most recently, executives and CBS showrunners and writers have been required to attend sessions with a psychologist, Dr. Steven Jones, who advises companies on how to mitigate unconscious bias in the workplace.

“They are taking a proactive approach,” said Bryan Wynbrandt, executive producer of the CBS freshman Sunday drama “God Friended Me.”

There has also been a push to promote greater awareness of ways employees can report inappropriate behavior in the workplace. Many employees were not aware that the company operated a hotline for complaints. Executives speaking on the condition of anonymity said such information, flagged in posted notices on show sets and in frequent company emails, is now omnipresent.

Along with harassment issues in the executive suite, CBS has also had problems on its productions. Last year, onetime “NCIS: New Orleans” executive producer Brad Kern was fired after two investigations into alleged verbal harassment toward women and racist statements he made on the set.

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CBS also paid $9.5 million to actress Eliza Dushku, who accused “Bull” star Michael Weatherly of sexual harassment and alleged that she was written off the series after she complained.

CBS is said to be strictly enforcing the requirement that all employees go through harassment training.

At the network’s TCA sessions, CBS shows with diverse casts and production teams were front and center, including “The Neighborhood”; “God Friended Me”; the upcoming limited series “The Red Line,” a tale of of a race-related police shooting set in Chicago; and “Star Trek: Discovery,” which stars Sonequa Martin-Green as the commander of the starship in the iconic series.

The casting of a nonwhite actress in the role was considered a breakthrough even for a franchise known for its forward-thinking values.

“Diversity is never addressed in ‘Star Trek,’ it’s an assumption,” said Alex Kurtzman, executive producer of “Star Trek: Discovery,” an original series for the streaming service CBS All Access.

The TCA lineup was likely a message to the reporters in attendance who in the past have criticized CBS for largely having shows centered around white male lead characters — a trait of Moonves’ long reign.

stephen.battaglio@latimes.com

Twitter: @SteveBattaglio

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