CBS brings more diversity to its fall prime-time TV schedule

Stephen Battaglio, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

CBS on Wednesday unveiled its first prime-time schedule in more than 20 years that did not have the imprint of its former chairman, Leslie Moonves, whose long iron-willed run at the company ended last year amid sexual harassment allegations.

In some ways, the program slate for the 2019-20 TV season maintains the formula that worked during the Moonves era with shows featuring familiar big-name TV stars such as Patricia Heaton and Paulie Perrette and bankable, well-known creators such as Chuck Lorre, who brought the network "The Big Bang Theory" and "Two and a Half Men."

But there is also a stark departure from the Moonves house style, with nonwhites or women (or both) in lead roles in seven of the network's eight new shows. For years, CBS has come under fire for a lack of minorities and women in leading and key roles.

On Wednesday, CBS executives touted "All Rise," a legal drama with Simone Missick as a Los Angeles County judge. Dramas featuring a black actress in a central role have been rare on CBS. The last one in recent memory was "Extant," a 2014 summer series with Halle Berry.

CBS Entertainment President Kelly Kahl, who presented the lineup at a news conference ahead of the network's presentation to advertisers at Carnegie Hall in New York, said the casting was a continuation of efforts to improve diversity in its programming that began last year. The network's top-rated new drama, "God Friended Me," and comedy, "The Neighborhood," both have black actors in lead roles.

But it was clear that Kahl's team has turned it up a notch after a brutal year of scrutiny of the corporate culture for women and people of color at CBS amid the Moonves scandal. (Kahl had to spend much of his press session defending a decision to bring back the drama series "Bull" following revelations last year that Moonves authorized a $9-million payout to actress Eliza Duchku, who accused the show's star Michael Weatherly of sexual harassment).


Privately, several CBS executives said there were a number of series and actors that would have been overlooked in the Moonves era, when a show's potential with the network's more traditional audience outweighed all other considerations, including diversity or inclusiveness.

David Nevins, the longtime head of premium cable network Showtime who became chief creative officer for CBS Corp. last year, said the development process at the network "is not a democracy" now, but is more open and collaborative than in previous years. Pleasing the strong-willed Moonves had long been the priority in the show-development process at the network, according to veterans at the network.

"It was a little bit of unleashing 'Where do you think CBS should go?'" Nevins said of the new development process. "There was less sturm und drang and there was less tension."

Thom Sherman, senior vice president of CBS Entertainment, said the network's mission was to be "bolder, broader and more inclusive -- we were looking for shows that appeal to the loyal CBS viewer, our bread and butter, but also shows that could push the creative boundaries of what we do 1/8and create3/8 some different flavors for the network."


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