By Mike Hughes
LOS ANGELES -- The
commotion at CBS lately has been a quick-fix – hurriedly adding
minority actors to new and returning shows.
“We need to do
better,” said Glenn Geller, the network's programming chief.
In fact, he said it
five times today (Wednesday) to the Television Critics Association.
That need becomes
obvious with the six shows CBS will introduce this fall; each centers
around a white male. Viewers will have to wait for mid-season to see
a lead role going to an actor who is black (Justin Cornwell in
“Training Day”) or female (Katherine Heigl in “Doubt”). The
other networks, by comparison, keep having both in starring roles.
For now, Geller can
-- Try a second
pilot for “Superior Donuts,” aiming for mid-season. It has “the
amazing young comedic talent Jermaine Fowler,” Geller said. “There
were many things we liked, ... especially Jermaine.”
-- Plug lots of
people into shows, sometimes moving them from recurring to regular
spots. There are 16 people being added; some are white, but the list
is strong on Latino actors (Wilmer Valderrama and Jennifer Esposito
on “NCIS,” Adam Rodriguez on “Criminal Minds,” Christina
Vidal on “Training Day”) and blacks. That includes Duane Henry
on “NCIS,” Boris Kodjoe on “Code Black,” Nelsan Ellis on
“Elementary” and more. Aisha Tyler will double on “Criminal
Minds” and “The Talk”; Justin Hires jumps from starring in the
failed “Rush Hour” to supporting in the new “MacGyver.”
In supporting casts,
Geller said, “we are actually more diverse than last year;”
That brings back the
old image of TV as a place where whites star and blacks are
sidekicks. Once “Rush Hour” vanishes (Aug. 20), CBS will have
only three shows -- “NCIS: Los Angeles,” “Elementary” and
“Scorpion” -- in which a minority is in a lead role.
Most lead characters
are also male and heterosexual, leading people to wonder what
For almost a decade,
the programming chief was Nina Tassler – a diverse person whose
mother was Puerto Rican and who has studied to be a cantor. Among
other things, she nudged CBS to its first superhero, with the
Geller, who took
over the job 11 months ago, was expected to continue that push. He's
gay and said diversity is “obviously a very personal subject to
Some new shows
(“Bull” and “The Great Indoors”) have gay characters, he
said. On existing shows, “Code Black” viewers will learn than
Malaya (Melanie Chandra) is gay and “NCIS: New Orleans” viewers
will meet a new gay character, an FBI agent played by Vanessa
Then there's “Doubt”
co-star Laverne Cox. “She's going to be the first transgender
actress ever to play a transgender series regular character,”
Geller said. “I mean, that is huge.”
She's also black,
but the most diverse shows will wait until mid-season. For now, CBS
is all about white male heterosexuals.
In a way, that's
part of the super-safe approach Geller took to his fall schedule. The
science-fiction shows are gone -- “Limitless” cancelled,
“Supergirl” shuttled to CW – and familar faces prevail.
CBS is pushing Kevin
James, Matt LeBlanc, Joel McHale and Michael Weatherly. It is a safe
schedule, the type that raises few objections ... except that now,
it's raised some big ones.