CBS came under fire last spring after unveiling a fall schedule that featured six new shows all starring white men — a sharp contrast from the other broadcast networks launching series with people of color in leading roles.
While maintaining at the time that the 2016-2017 CBS lineup was “more diverse” than the previous year, with several minorities in supporting roles across its prime-time programming, entertainment president Glenn Geller acknowledged that the network needed to improve its record on casting people of color in starring roles: “Look, we need to do better, and we know it,” he said.
In revealing a portion of its upcoming schedule Friday, CBS demonstrated its definition of “do better”: Of the six new shows — two comedies and four dramas— officially announced by press time, one has a minority lead. None feature a female in a leading role.
Executives did not respond to requests for comment. CBS is scheduled to unveil its entire fall lineup Wednesday at its upfront presentation in New York.
The new shows include the family comedy “9JKL” starring Mark Feuerstein, crime dramas “Wisdom of the Crowd” starring Jeremy Piven and “Instinct” starring Alan Cumming, military drama “Seal Team” starring David Boreanaz, and the life-spanning comedy “Me, Myself & I” starring “Saturday Night Live’s” Bobby Moynihan.
“S.W.A.T.,” a reboot of the 1975 drama (and the 2003 film) about a Special Weapons and Tactics team in an unidentified California city, is the only announced new series featuring a minority in a lead role: Shemar Moore, who recently left CBS’ “Criminal Minds.”
“Young Sheldon” a prequel to “The Big Bang Theory,” featuring that show’s lead character Sheldon Cooper as a 9-year-old genius, was previously announced.
Returning CBS shows that feature minority leads include “Scorpion” (Elyes Gabel), “NCIS: Los Angeles” (LL Cool J) and “Superior Donuts” (Jermaine Fowler).
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. They charge that CBS, which touts itself as “America’s Most Watched Network,” does not accurately reflect the look of America.
In response to the ongoing criticism, last October the network launched a major casting initiative designed to discover new performers from across the country and increase the pool of diverse talent for its current dramas and upcoming pilots.
Geller, who has been CBS chief programmer since September 2015, said the objective of the initiative was to invite performers not based in New York or Los Angeles to try out for CBS shows.
But Geller went on medical leave last March after suffering a mild heart attack. The health scare came at one of the most frantic times in the TV industry calendar year when programming executives at the network were working on the new fall schedules.
In his absence, CBS Corp. Chief Executive Leslie Moonves and other senior network executives became more involved in programming decisions for the upcoming season.