CBS entertainment chief goes on defensive over programming diversity

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CBS entertainment head Nina Tassler was put on the hot seat Thursday at TV critics’ press tour regarding her network’s diversity —or perceived lack thereof.

Days after ABC touted a programming slate rife with varied faces and voices (“Black-ish,” “Cristela,” “How to Get Away With Murder,” “Fresh off the Boat,” etc.), CBS took the stage to promote its new fall shows —shows that look largely homogeneous by comparison.

“We don’t look at fall as the defining mark of giving us our diversity quota,” Tassler said, noting that African-American actress Halle Berry is the star of the network’s big summer “event” series, “Extant.”

A reporter pointed out that no other supporting character on “Extant” is a minority — even Berry’s robotic son on the show is white.

Tassler held up “Elementary” co-star Lucy Liu as an example of diversity in CBS’s lead character casting, as well as Maggie Q, an actress of Vietnamese descent, in the upcoming drama “Stalker.”

<b><i>Maggie Q stars in the new fall drama “Stalker.” (Photo courtesy CBS)</i></b>

Maggie Q stars in the new fall drama “Stalker.” (Photo courtesy CBS)

“These are leads,” Tassler said. “These are formidable roles.”

That’s true. But it’s one thing to cast a minority actress in a lead role, and it’s another to have that character’s voice and experience reflect something beyond the mainstream —something unique to that character’s culture or heritage. That’s not really the case in “Elementary,” and I didn’t see it in the pilot of “Stalker.”

For the most part, ABC’s new crop of shows —especially in the comedy arena —not only are brimming with minority actors, they’re telling the characters’ non-traditional stories with subject matter that reflects the casts’ diversity.

Another reporter brought up that CBS’s comedies are especially white, which led Tassler to hold up the new sitcom “The McCarthys” as an example of incorporating different voices into the schedule.

“The McCarthys” revolves around a gay white man and his close-knit Irish-American family in Boston. It’s based on Second City alum Brian Gallivan’s life.

Tassler also said it’s important to consider more than just primetime when you look at diversity, noting the network’s varied panel on its daytime chatfest, “The Talk.”

“It’s a goal of ours not just in front of the camera,” Tassler said about the topic that’s emerged as a focal point of this summer’s press tour. “It’s always a conversation and it’s always a goal.”

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