What started out as talking about bro hugs and a couple pals in a new job quickly turned into a barrage of questions about CBS' diversity — or lack thereof — during the CBS executive session at the Television Critics Association summer press tour Tuesday. Kelly Kahl, president of CBS Entertainment, and Thom Sherman, senior executive vice president of programming at CBS, faced a repetitive topic at TCAs in regards to CBS: why is the network so white?
Unfortunately, Kahl and Sherman didn't have a good answer to any of the questions, mostly because they're both new to their positions and couldn't answer to the decisions of the past. Kahl was promoted to his new position in May from his old position as head of scheduling, and Sherman, who oversaw development at The CW, moved over to CBS in May.
That didn't stop questions about why no new CBS show has had a female lead in the past two development cycles, or why other networks have passed CBS in terms of inclusive, diverse programming.
"The way I have tended to develop in my career is to have people bring me everything, and when you cast a wide net like that, I think that you get the kind of shows that you're talking about," Sherman said. "We want our slate to be inclusive, we want it to be diverse, we want all sorts of programming, we want all sort of different types of programming and we believe that we will get that."
When pressed further, Sherman — who has a solid track record in diverse development with shows like Lost, Jane the Virgin and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend — noted that CBS had six pilots with female leads last year and that the decision to pass on all of them had nothing to do with the fact that they had female leads. They simply weren't as good as the shows CBS decided to pick up.
"I would say we can debate, have a discussion about the pace of the change, but there is change happening on CBS," Kahl added. "We have two shows with diverse leads this year that we didn't have on the schedule last year, we have a midseason show with a lead character who is gay, and over the last few years if you look at the number of diverse series regulars, it's up almost 60 percent. The number of writers we have, from diverse backgrounds is up over the last few years, as is directors. So we are absolutely moving in the right direction."
"We love both of those actors and did not want to lose them," Kahl said. "We made very strong attempts to keep them." That's a reference to the reportedly "unprecedented" raise offered to at least Kim, which still left him just short of what his white costars, Alex O'Loughlin and Scott Caan, made. When asked if there were other factors that contributed to Kim and Park's decision to leave the show, Kahl said, "I can't speak to that, and in my mind it was purely a business transaction." The two also mentioned that losing cast members is always a byproduct of long-running shows, due to the fact that salaries increase.
But both Kahl and Sherman were quick to point out that more changes are afoot at CBS, and that the network is looking at "expanding their palette."
"CBS has been so successful with broad-appeal shows, and we are going to continue down that path," Sherman said in his opening remarks. "But Leslie [Moonves], Kelly and I have spoken about expanding the palette of what we do, and we're going to do that. Last week we [went out] to talent agencies for some old fashioned meet and greets and we told them, 'Please tell your clients don't censor yourselves. Don't assume you know what a CBS show is. Bring us your passion projects, bring us everything, bring us all different genres, and let us decide if it fits our mandate going forward."
We'll have to wait until next fall season to see how it pans out.
(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS.)