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CBS announces diversity overhaul of writers rooms and script-development program

 Tony Tambi and Folake Olowofoyeku in "Bob Hearts Abishola"
Tony Tambi, left, and Folake Olowofoyeku in “Bob Hearts Abishola,” a CBS sitcom heading into its second season.
(Michael Yarish / CBS)

CBS wants at least 40% of its writers to be Black, indigenous or people of color by the 2021-22 broadcast season and has earmarked 25% of its future script-development money to projects with BIPOC creators or producers, the network announced Monday.

It also set a goal for the 2022-23 broadcast season: half of all writers will be nonwhite. More immediately, it says it will add writers of color on “select CBS series” for the 2020-21 season.

The effort is part of a broad initiative to “more accurately reflect diversity both on-screen and behind-the-camera,” CBS said in a statement. The development money will start flowing when development begins for the 2021-22 season.

“While steady progress has been made in recent years both in front of and behind the camera, change needs to happen faster, especially with creators and leadership roles on the shows,” said George Cheeks, president and chief executive of CBS Entertainment Group, in the statement.

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“As a network with ambitions to be a unifier and an agent of change at this important time, these new initiatives will help accelerate efforts to broaden our storytelling and make CBS programming even more diverse and inclusive.”

Hollywood has worked to increase diversity in its lowers ranks. But the top writing jobs in film and TV still largely go to white men.

Cheeks, who had been a rising star at NBCUniversal, took over from Joe Ianniello at CBS after the ViacomCBS merger. It was the first time in a quarter-century that CBS turned to an outsider to manage the business rather than grooming talent from within.

A month ago, in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests, the Writers Guild of America West published an open letter from its Committee of Black Writers calling in part for an overhaul of the way the film and TV industry hires writers.

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“Either you commit to a new, institutionalized system of accountability with and to Black writers, or you prove that you’re putting on just another strategic, virtue-signaling performance deemed necessary to survive the times,” the writers wrote in the letter, signed by Michelle Amor and Hilliard Guess, cochairs of the CBW, and Bianca Sams, its vice chair.

While Hollywood companies — led by Netflix and followed by others including Walt Disney’s Hulu, Warner Bros. and CBS — have shared messages of support, the writers asked networks and studios to address issues they said prevent Black writers from entering and succeeding in the industry.

“We Black writers who have ‘made it’ in Hollywood have still been denied jobs at all levels, passed over for opportunities we were qualified for, rejected from writers’ rooms because of a ‘lack of experience,’ unsupported when seeking to create content specifically for Black audiences, critically underpaid and mistreated compared to white counterparts, and historically ignored during awards season,” the letter read.

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Staff writers Anoush Sakoui and Meg James contributed to this report.


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