CBS’ new entertainment executives took fire from reporters Tuesday over the network’s diversity woes, but stressed that they are “moving in the right direction.”
Newly minted CBS Entertainment president Kelly Kahl and programming senior vice president Thom Sherman hit the Television Critics Association press tour stage for the first time in their new jobs, and were met with several questions about why, for the second year in a row, CBS is premiering a new schedule without any female leads.
“We can debate the pace of change,” Kahl said. “But there is change.” Kahl said the number of diverse series regulars on CBS is “up 60 percent, and the number of writers with diverse backgrounds is up.” This season, he noted that two of the network’s new shows include diverse leads, including “S.W.A.T.,” starring Shemar Moore.
When one reporter pointed out that CBS’ casting department contained all white executives, Sherman said, “we hear you, and we’re looking to expand our casting department.”
Asked about the “Hawaii Five-0” controversy, in which co-stars Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park departed after their reported requests for salary parity with series stars Alex O’Loughlin and Scott Caan were not met, Kahl declined to get into specifics.
“We love both those actors, and we did not want to lose them,” he said. “We made strong attempts to keep them and offered them a lot of money to stick around… it was purely a business transaction.”
In looking to expand CBS’ programming, Kahl and Sherman said their development teams met with the Hollywood talent agencies last week with this message: Pitch us your best projects, even if you don’t think they fit the CBS mold.
“When you cast a wide net like that you get all kinds of shows,” said Sherman, who previously oversaw development at The CW. “We want our slate to be inclusive, diverse and all sorts of different kinds of programming… Please tell your clients, don’t censor themselves. Bring us your passion projects, and let us decide if it fits our mandate going forward. CBS is a big tent network; we want the tent to be even bigger.”
Meanwhile, CBS also revealed that, as part of a massive shift on sophomore sitcom “Kevin Can Wait,” the character played by Erinn Hayes will be killed off. When the show returns, about 10 months have passed since her death, allowing for Kevin James’ character to have moved on.
The decision to cut Hayes (who played James’ wife) from the show came after Leah Remini guest starred in Season 1. Remini, who starred with James on the hit 2000s sitcom “The King of Queens,” will now be a series regular.
“Obviously the chemistry between Kevin and Leah was amazing in that stunt episode,” Kahl said. “We decided to continue that chemistry.”
Kahl, who was previously CBS’ senior executive vice president of primetime, and Sherman were promoted to their new roles at the end of May, after former CBS Entertainment president Glenn Geller, who had suffered a heart attack and missed some of upfront season, exited the position.