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CBS Entertainment boss on diversity: ‘We need to do better’

Glenn Geller, CBS Entertainment chief:

Glenn Geller, CBS Entertainment chief: "We're mindful about the importance of diversity and inclusion. We need to do better. We know it. That's it." Photo Credit: CBS / Sonja Flemming

BEVERLY HILLS — In an unusual admission that CBS’ diversity efforts in prime time have fallen short, CBS Entertainment chief Glenn Geller told TV writers at the biannual press tour here Wednesday that “we need to do better — we know it.”

Of the five-plus major series launching on the network in the fall, none has a black lead or colead, in sharp — some would argue glaring — contrast to Fox, ABC and NBC. Fox, for example, will have an African-American lead (Corey Hawkins) in one of the most famous franchises on television, “24,” which returns as “24:Legacy” early next year.

Geller — not yet a year in the job as Entertainment chief (he replaced Nina Tassler in September) — was prepared for the “diversity question,” and in fact, said he welcomed it:

“I’m really glad this came up first,” he said. “We’re mindful about the importance of diversity and inclusion. We need to do better. We know it. That’s it.”

The issue — which Geller conceded — are the lead roles, and on CBS, those are all filled with white actors, especially three high-profile new comedies: “Kevin Can Wait” (Kevin James); “The Great Indoors” (Joel McHale); and “Man with a Plan” (Matt LeBlanc).

Geller said that since May, 11 new cast regulars had been added to CBS series. Those cast members “are diverse [but] I know those aren’t the leads.”

(African-American / transgender actress Laverne Cox will co-star in the legal drama “Doubt,” which is set for midseason. The co-star of midseason’s “Training Day,” is African-American actor Justin Cornwell.)

He added: “I understand the inclination to look at the screen and leads and say, ‘Well, why are you less diverse this year?’ But I think when we’re talking about diversity and inclusion, we also have to look behind the camera [and] our writers are more diverse than last year, and our directors are on track to be more diverse [too]. I hear you and understand that we need to do better. But in terms of ensemble casting, we are better this year than last.”

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