The hot-button topic at this summer’s Television Critics Association press tour is diversity on fall TV. The question: Should CBS take a page out of ABC’s book this season?
CBS chief Nina Tassler preceded the Q&A portion of her panel by mentioning her network’s diverse line-up. That caught the ear of several critics who vocalized their concern that, unlike ABC’s Black-ish, Cristela, and Fresh Off the Boat, CBS’s comedies all appeared “extremely white.” (For the record, that’s Mom, Mike & Molly, 2 Broke Girls, Two and a Half Men, The Millers, and The Big Bang Theory.)
“We have to look at the entire network…and I think from sun up to sun down, there is diversity,” said Tassler. “You look at the leads where we have Halle Berry, the lead in one of our dramas. You have Lucy Liu [in Elementary], you have Maggie Q [in Stalker]…these are very formidable characters. When we talk about diversity, we talk about the entire breadth of the network and not just one particular genre. Season to season…we don’t come out of the launch of any new show to say, ‘Great, we’re good, we’ve hit our quotas.’ We always look to add more diverse characters to shows if we feel we haven’t delivered as best as we would like to.”
Dropping the genre qualifier of comedies, one reporter pointed out that CBS’s fall schedule doesn’t have “a single show where a non-white person is the sole star. Not one.” The question became, is CBS at all worried about being left behind by the other networks when it comes to building a diverse fall slate?
“We don’t look at fall as the defining mark of giving us our diversity quota,” said Tassler, again citing Berry in this summer’s Extant as her primary example. “We look at the entire year…and if we don’t have as diverse casts as we would like to going into the season, we see where we can add.” Tassler added that the network tries to supplement diversity behind the camera, in the writers’ room, and in its budding directors’ program, as well as “deep into the ensembles” of other shows. On the flip side, she touted this fall’s The McCarthys, which centers around a gay man, and 2015’s event series The Dovekeepers, starring NCIS alum Cote de Pablo (the actress’s casting, Tassler said, signified “a big statement”).
“The reality is we have to look at making the best choices, hiring the best actors, and if we don’t get the level of diversity we’re happy with going into the fall, we look at every opportunity over the course of the year to add it,” Tassler reiterated.
Following Tassler’s executive session, Morgan Freeman was on hand in the following panel to address the topic again. As the executive producer of this fall’s Madam Secretary, Freeman was asked a similar question about whether he had any goals to specifically seek a diverse cast for the show—which, it should be noted, is already probably the network’s most diverse ensemble of the fall.
“No, I don’t have any goals in that direction, but what we exercise is open casting,” said Freeman. “That means hopefully we just have an open mind in terms of casting, and whoever fits that role for us, gets that role … I don’t think we’re going to go out and say, ‘Oh, we need somebody black or Asian or whatever to play this role.’ We get who fits it.” He leaned over to Barbara Hall, his co-executive producer and Madam Secretary’s creator. “Am I right about that?”