Someone Please Explain “Diversity” to CBS

CBS diversity

image courtesy Entertainment Weekly

When CBS unveiled its fall slate, it didn’t take long to notice a pattern. Of the eight new shows that the network picked up for the 2016-17 season, six of them have a white, male lead.

CBS has never really been the network that tries experimental programming – that is, if not that having shows centered around people who are a) not male and/or b) not white should qualify as “experimental”. Part of this is likely because most of its new shows end up being spinoffs of existing shows. (CSI: Cyber, which I didn’t even realize was still on, was recently cancelled, finally killing the long-running franchise.) Still, would it kill them to toss in some shows about ladies or people of color? (Somebody please find a decent vehicle for Arden Cho!)

Apparently, CBS doesn’t see the problem. Earlier today, CBS Entertainment President Glenn Geller defended the lack of diversity on the network:

We are the network that has Madam Secretary and Two Broke Girls and Mom – we have lots of female leads, we have a great balance. Actually our new series are more diverse this year than last year. When Doubt premieres, I’m happy to say it’s the first broadcast series to feature a transgender series regular played by a transgender actor. I think that’s phenomenal. We are definitely moving in the right direction.

Doubt is a mid-season legal drama that stars Katherine Heigl and features Laverne Cox in a co-starring role. Training Day – also a mid-season drama – is the other show out of the eight with a little diversity. It co-stars Justin Cornwell, who is black. He stars opposite Bill Paxton..another white male.

This comes on the heels of the news that CBS decided not to pick up the Sarah Shahi show about an older Nancy Drew because it was “too female” for their schedule, despite it having tested well. It’s interesting that Geller talks about moving in the white – er, right direction when comments like that are made public knowledge. It’s all about choosing the “right” pilot, just like I’m sure casting Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell was about choosing the “right” actress.

WARNING: Spoilers for the season 13 finale of NCIS.

Additionally, CBS has proven once again that a female character doesn’t even need to be on the show any longer for her to be fridged. They did it years ago on CSI: NY, when Aiden Burn (Vanessa Ferlito) was fired from the crime lab in the beginning of season 2 only to end up being a Jane Doe in one of their cases later that same season. (FYI, Ferlito would have been in Drew if the network had picked it up.)

Last night, NCIS revealed in its season 13 finale episode that Ziva David (Cote de Pablo), who left the show in season 11, had been killed in an explosion. Then it was revealed that her daughter survived – the daughter no one knew she had, the daughter who was fathered by fellow NCIS Agent Tony DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly, who is getting one of the six new shows next season). On a personal note, I shipped Tony/Ziva for years and words cannot describe how angry I am right now.

End spoilers.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the math doesn’t add up. (Keep in mind, mid-season shows aren’t listed on the schedule yet.) But right now, there isn’t a gender balance at all. I mean, just consider the fact that Geller named three shows that have female leads but picked up seven male-focused shows for next season. While the new shows – and returning favorites such as NCIS and Hawaii 5-0 – may have female characters, the casts are heavily male.

The female-centered shows that Geller mentioned aren’t exactly stellar representations of diversity, either. I can’t speak for Madam Secretary or Mom, but 2 Broke Girls is often criticized as being racist. And I stopped watching The Big Bang Theory years ago, but I’ve sometimes found it to be casually misogynistic.

Look, we’re not asking for much. But considering the year TV women have been having, throw us a fricking bone, here. Bring in shows featuring characters from a wide range of backgrounds. Or you know what? Follow in ABC’s footsteps and have shows like Black-ish and Fresh off the Boat. Have shows with female characters, LGBT+ characters, black characters, Latinx characters, Asian characters – and don’t cop-out by having a black, gay female character in a sea of white men and call yourselves diverse. Don’t just have these characters propping up the white male leads; make them the leads. And also not stereotypes.

Please. I’m begging you.

Author: Jamie Sugah

Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.



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