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CBS Tries to Defend Its Lack of Women and POC Because Listening to Criticism Is Just Too Hard, Apparently

Putting the BS in CBS

kevin james

Right around this time last year, CBS received a lot of criticism when they decided to cancel production on their Nancy Drew reboot. While not officially confirmed, there were reports that the show “tested well but skewed too female” for the season lineup. The network picked up a slew of shows with male leads, but felt the need to choose between Nancy Drew and Katherine Heigl & Laverne Cox’s Doubt. (Which was canceled after two episodes.) That was also, by the way, when CBS dropped Supergirl, which then moved over to the CW.

Given all that, you might think that CBS would come into this year’s season announcements ready to avoid reliving the exact same criticism two years in a row. But apparently, that wasn’t a priority for them. Their new season will feature (as of now) seven new comedies and dramas, all with a male lead (most of whom are white) and male showrunners. (One comedy, 9JKL, has a husband-wife producing team.) The network also renewed five of last season’s new shows, all of which have a male lead, four of whom are white.

You already know what defense CBS is going to give, right? CBS Corp CEO Leslie Moonves, who’s standing in for network president Glenn Geller following a heart attack, went with the old these just happen to be the best shows standby. “We do a number of pilots, a lot of them have women in starring roles,” he says, refusing to acknowledge that there might possibly be any bias whatsoever in the way they approach woman-and-POC-led shows. “There are a lot of women in the schedule, in this new schedule. The best pilots went at the end of the day and we think our track record is OK.”

We’re going to have to agree to disagree about that track record. Last year, in defending the network’s representation of women, Geller pointed to Mom, Madam Secretary, as well as 2 Broke Girls and Doubt. He said he believed last year’s season lineup was more diverse than the year before and that they were “definitely moving in the right direction.”

But now half of those shows mentioned have been cancelled, and no new women-led shows have been added. At least, none were added to the main CBS lineup. Moonves thinks we need to look at CBS Corp as a whole. “When I look at the totality of who CBS is, I look at news, I look at daytime, I look at sports, I look at Showtime, I look at The CW — they’re all part of our family — and when you look at the totality of that, I think we’re fine in terms of the amount of women who are behind the camera [and] in front of the camera. I think we’re doing a very good job and I don’t think we’re looking in the wrong direction. On the contrary.”

It is true that if you discount CBS’ primetime schedule from the landscape, CBS Corp is doing a lot better. Obviously, the CW is killing it with shows for, by, and about women, and their new online service, CBS All Access, is getting a number of shows led by women and POC.

The answer to that question, of course, is yes. It’s obviously deliberate. Shows starring women and POC do well with audiences. People want to watch good shows, and they want to see wider representation. But for whatever reason, networks still don’t trust that we’ll watch. So those shows are relegated to the “niche” networks, with smaller audiences and subscription fees. In the prime spot, women and POC are stuck in sidekick territory.

The number of women and POC on those other subsidiary networks is great. But CBS cannot just ignore the giant gaping hole that is their primary network and say they’re “moving in the right direction.” That’s literal marginalization, and the heads of CBS are refusing to recognize it as such.


(via THR, image: CBS)

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