CBS once again hit hard over diversity
'Hawaii Five-0': CBS 'did not want to lose' Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park
In the wake of the #CBSsowhite and #CBSsomale campaigns, not to mention the controversy surrounding the exits of Asian actors Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park from Hawaii Five-0, CBS chiefs Kelly Kahl and Thom Sherman took quite a pummeling at the Television Critics Association’s press tour on Tuesday.
Last year, the network was criticized for a new fall lineup that featured six shows all starring white males, while this fall’s lineup has five shows starring white males… and one starring former Criminal Minds star Shemar Moore. The network has continued to defend its diversity at each recent press tour, with former CBS chief Glenn Geller noting last summer that they need to do better. And yet, press continued to push on why it’s taking so long.
“We can have a debate and discussion about the pace, but it’s happening,” Kahl said. “Change is happening. We have a midseason lead character who is gay. Over the last number of years, diverse series regulars are up almost 60 percent. The number of writers we have from diverse backgrounds is up over the last few years, as are the directors. We are making progress.”
The problem, Sherman noted, is that their schedule is already stacked with veteran series, so it’s difficult to add more diverse projects. “So many of our hits are long-running. There is not as much shelf space to put new programming on,” he said. The network was also questioned for having an all-white casting department, though Kahl said Peter Golden and his team “have been together a long time. They are fantastic at what they do.”
When asked why show creators would want to bring a project that looks like America to CBS when their track record has been backwards, Kahl pushed back. “I’m not sure how to address that,” he said. “I think you’ve seen a lot of diversity on CBS over the years going back in our past. We said in the past we are going to do better and we are doing better. Every single drama on our air has at least one diverse character. We are moving in the right direction.”
Female-led vehicles, meanwhile, are basically nonexistent on the network — Madam Secretary is one of the few dramas, while Mom holds the lone comedy distinction. “CBS did develop female lead shows,” Sherman said. “We had six pilots with six female leads. It turned out those pilots were not felt to be as good as the other pilots and series we picked up. That is the cycle of the business.”
Speaking specifically to Hawaii Five-0, Kahl was adamant that the network tried to keep both Kim and Park in place. “We loved both those actors and did not want to lose them,” Kahl said. “We made very, very strong attempts to keep them and offered them a lot of money to stick around. We wanted them to stick around. It’s an unfortunate byproduct of having a long successful show is sometimes you lose cast members. We didn’t want it to happen. We tried our darnedest to keep them… We never like to lose characters that the audience loves off long-running shows. It’s the nature of the business. We made very lucrative offers to those actors.”
Following the panel, Kahl admitted that he expected the push-back. “We came in knowing it was an issue,” he said. “We were here last year. Our answers were honest and we welcome having the discussion. Like I said, in my heart, I believe we are moving in the right direction. I’m not sure you can change everything overnight, but I feel good. We’re moving in the right way.”
Still, Kahl stressed the network was making huge strides, pointing to the Moore-starring S.W.A.T., which took the stage just before them. “I would take a little issue that I think we are getting the job done. The panel before us, I think you saw a diverse executive producer and one of the most popular stars on our network in a leading role, that’s just one. We have Superior Donuts, we have LL Cool J, we also want to put on not just diverse shows, but successful shows that are inclusive. We want shows that will run a long time. That’s a little bit of an issue on our network. We have a lot of successful shows. We don’t get quite as many trips to the plate as some of the other networks, but I would hope you see the progress going forward.”