Despite CBS programming programming chiefs touting their strides with diversity in front of and behind the camera today, they continued to come under fire by the TCA press corps for mismanaging inclusivity on the network’s reality programs like Big Brother and Survivor.
One TCA press member specifically called out the situation of Kemi, an African-American woman on Big Brother, who in the wake of being eliminated from the show, claimed the series producers tried to goad her into playing the part of a sassy black woman. The reporter also reminded CBS President of Entertainment Kelly Kahl and SVP or Programming Thom Sherman about Survivor contestant Julia Carter’s 4,600-word essay on her experience during season 38, which entailed a racial slur being used on the first day to the backlash she received after discussing exclusion in the first four episodes.
“There is a significant difference between diversity and inclusion. Casting a few Black faces each season simply isn’t enough. Include them in the story. Stop giving them stereotypical edits that perpetuate the same stereotypes that many of us come on the show to combat,” Carter wrote.
Said Sherman about the Big Brother incident, “A producer, we learned, in an attempt to get a soundbite overstepped. That producer was reprimanded and received unconscious bias training as well as other producers on the show. We don’t want that to happen again.”
Added Kahl “All of our producers receive unconscious bias training” and defended that a vast number of contestants “are quite happy on how they’re represented” coming off CBS reality shows. “Thousands of hours are cut down to 42 minutes an episode,” said Kahl, “We can’t show everything that happens on the show, and producers strive to show a good representation of what happens.”
“We’re telling you, you have a problem with your reality shows. Why don’t you just acknowledge that instead of spinning that?” blasted one black radio journalist to the CBS brass onstage this morning.
Said Sherman, “On Big Brother, half our cast this year is diverse and over the last three winters there have been people of color.”
At the top of the session, before being sweated by the TCA corps, Sherman trumpeted the network’s progress with diversity saying “clearly we’re looking different on air…and behind the scenes.” He touted such stats that 53% of CBS’ writers are women or people of color while that demo makes up 50% of the network’s directors.
“We know this work must continue,” said Sherman, “as we evolve creatively and commercially.”
The backlash against CBS at TCA was at its loudest during the 2016 press tour when the network showcased a slate of six new comedies, all starring white men. Kahl and Sherman also received plenty of criticism at the summer 2017 tour when SWAT was the only new show with a minority lead, and the six shows being presented lacked a female leading role.
Throughout all of this, CBS has gone to great lengths to ramp up their diversity initiatives with an annual casting directors symposium. The network also hosts a comedy sketch showcase for aspiring minority performers, and artists and writers from the LGBTQ community.
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