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TCA17: New CBS Heads Kahl, Sherman Defend Diversity Stance

Complete Coverage: 2017 TCA Summer Press Tour

Beverly Hills, Calif. — CBS remains the most-watched network but also the least diverse, an issue that TV critics and reporters were not willing to lose sight of during CBS’ executive session at the TCA summer press tour on Tuesday.

"We can debate and have a discussion about pace of change, but there is change happening on CBS,” said Kelly Kahl, CBS’ president of entertainment. “We have two shows on the schedule with diverse leads that we didn’t have last year” in S.W.A.T. and Seal Team.

Across CBS’ schedule, “diverse series regulars are up 60%. The number of diverse writers is up over the last few years, as are directors. We are absolutely moving in the right direction,” Kahl said.

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“We have a lot of long-running shows so there’s not as much shelf space to put a lot of new programming on,” said Thom Sherman, senior executive VP of programming at CBS. “We have every intention of having a diverse and inclusive slate.”

To that end, Kahl and Sherman said they are putting out the word to Hollywood at the start of pilot season to “bring us everything.”

“Please tell your clients, ‘don’t censor yourselves, don’t assume you know what a CBS show is,’” said Sherman. “Bring us your passion projects and let us decide if it fits our mandate going forward. To sum it up, CBS is a big tent network and we want the tent to be even bigger.”

Those answers didn’t really satisfy the crowd, who pointed out that these are the answers they hear every year but nothing seems to change. For example, no new female-led series has made it to CBS’ schedule in the past two seasons.

“CBS did develop shows with female leads last year,” said Kahl. “We shot six pilots with female leads. The way things turned out those pilots were not felt to be as good as some of the other pilots that were picked up, even though all of those actresses are fantastic. That’s the cycle of business and that’s how it happens sometimes.”

Critics also noted that CBS’ casting departments are staffed by all-white employees on both coasts, to which Kahl responded, “I personally don’t think that has anything to do with it.”

To that end, critics honed in on the recent departure of Hawaii Five-0 stars Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park. Both stars departed the long-running drama in June, saying that they weren’t granted pay equity with their co-stars Alex O’Loughlin and Scott Caan.

“I’m not going to talk specifics of those deals or negotiations,” said Kahl. “We loved both of those actors and did not want to lose them. We made very strong attempts to keep them and offered them a lot of money to stick around. The unfortunate byproduct of having a long-running show is that you lose cast members. Any network that’s had a successful long-running show has turnover. In my mind it was purely a business decision.”

CBS also is recasting Erinn Hayes from its sitcom Kevin Can Wait, starring Kevin James, with his former King of Queens co-star Leah Remini. Hayes’ character will have passed away when the new season starts, and Remini will be ushered in as James’ new love interest.

According to Kahl, CBS hadn’t intended to swap in Remini for Hayes, but when the network saw the chemistry between James and Remini, they felt the show would be improved by making the change.

Paige Albiniak
Paige Albiniak

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.