CBS caves to backlash and repurposes ‘The Activist’ into documentary special

Usher, left, Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Julianne Hough
Usher, left, Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Julianne Hough were initially tapped to host a new reality series called “The Activist.”
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times, left and center; Jason Kempin / Getty Images for Netflix)

That was quick.

After drawing sharp scrutiny for its forthcoming reality series “The Activist” — including from one of its stars — CBS has decided that a competition program about activism cohosted by rich and famous celebrities isn’t such a good idea after all.

On Wednesday evening, the network announced its plan to retool “The Activist” from a reality show into a primetime documentary special spotlighting the efforts of six activists — likely the same six it originally intended to pit against one another before celebrity judges Usher, Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Julianne Hough.

“The Activist was designed to show a wide audience the passion, long hours and ingenuity that activists put into changing the world, hopefully inspiring others to do the same,” CBS said in a statement.


“However, it has become apparent the format of the show as announced distracts from the vital work these incredible activists do in their communities every day. The push for global change is not a competition and requires a global effort.”

‘The Activist,’ CBS’ new reality series hosted by Usher, Priyanka Chopra and Julianne Hough, will see various activists compete for their causes.

Sept. 10, 2021

Shortly after CBS released the press release last week for “The Activist” — originally conceived as a high-stakes tournament that would see its participants go “head-to-head in challenges to promote their causes” — Twitter users deemed the show’s premise “gross,” “incredibly corny,” “dreadful,” “literal performance activism” and “everything that is wrong with society.”

“As a result, we are changing the format to remove the competitive element and reimagining the concept into a primetime documentary special (air date to be announced),” CBS continued in its statement.

“It will showcase the tireless work of six activists and the impact they have advocating for causes they deeply believe in. Each activist will be awarded a cash grant for the organization of their choice, as was planned for the original show.”

Global Citizen, which signed on to produce “The Activist” alongside CBS and Live Nation, also released a statement Wednesday apologizing for its role in the public relations nightmare.

‘I do not claim to be an activist,’ says Julianne Hough, who’s a cohost on CBS’ upcoming reality TV show about activism that has ignited an uproar.

Sept. 15, 2021

“Global activism centers on collaboration and cooperation, not competition,” the organization said. “We apologize to the activists, hosts and the larger activist community — we got it wrong.


“It is our responsibility to use this platform in the most effective way to realize change and elevate the incredible activists dedicating their lives to progress all around the world.”

CBS’ announcement comes a day after Hough — who earned plenty of criticism for her involvement in the project — embraced the public’s concerns and said she had relayed them to “the powers that be” at the network.

CBS ousts two TV station executives after a Los Angeles Times investigation uncovered allegations of racist and abusive behavior.

April 8, 2021

It’s unclear to what extent the “Dancing With the Stars” alum, Usher and Chopra Jonas will be involved with the program moving forward.

“I ... heard you say that trying to value one cause over another felt like the Oppression Olympics and totally ... disrespected the many activists who have been killed, assaulted and faced various abuses fighting for their causes,” Hough wrote in her Tuesday statement.

“Because of all this, there is a feeling of insult, dehumanization, insensitivity and hurt that is being rightfully felt. I do not claim to be an activist and wholeheartedly agree that the judging aspect of the show missed the mark. ... I am not qualified to act as a judge.”