CBS Entertainment President Glenn Geller is under fire — again — for his network’s perceived lack of casting diversity.
Critics assailed Geller for putting too many shows with all-white leads on the fall schedule, although he repeatedly emphasized that the No. 1 network is committed to diversity and has been making progress behind the camera.
“We need to do better,” Geller told reporters Wednesday at the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour in Beverly Hills.
Bringing more non-white characters to the fore has been a long-term issue for CBS, which has an audience that skews white and older than the ages-18-to-49 demographic favored by advertisers. The fall lineup includes another crop of new shows with white leads, including the drama reboot “MacGyver” and the comedy “Kevin Can Wait.”
“We are definitely less diverse this year than last year and we need to do better,” Geller told critics. “We need to do better and we know it.”
Geller pointed out that non-white actors had been added in supporting and ensemble roles, such as Justin Hires in the “MacGyver” cast. And the network remains committed to its diversity showcase and writing and direction programs aimed at fostering careers of non-white artists. “In terms of diversity across all shows, we are more diverse this year than last year,” he said. “That’s our commitment to diversity — it’s ongoing.
“Those just aren’t words — those are real actions,” he added.
“I understand the inclination to look at the screen and the leads and say, ‘Why aren’t you more diverse?’” Geller said. “But we also have to look behind the camera.”
But Geller was put on the defensive again when a critic pointed out that out of the 10 new series on the CBS fall schedule, all have white showrunners.
“Sometimes our showrunners are diverse, sometimes they’re not diverse,” he replied. “We pick up the best shows from the pilots we make.”
In a conversation with a smaller group of reporters after the main session, Geller was asked if CBS could commit to hiring at least one non-white series lead next year.
“I don’t know how to answer that,” he said. “Our goal is always to get more diverse. We did not meet that goal this year in terms of leads, we are down year to year. But overall we are more diverse this year. That’s the trend, and that’s where I want to take the network.
Additional reporting by Linda Ge.