CBS at TCA: The more things change, the more they stay the same

Network talks about new shows, but comes up short on diversity. Again.

In what has been the case for the last several years, CBS’ presentation at the summer edition of the Television Critics Association tour has always been the most controversial. And this year’s was no different.

Several reporters grilled The Church Of Tisch Tuesday on diversity, or the lack thereof. CBS made news for failing to renew the contracts of two Asian-American actors on Hawaii Five-O since the network refused to match the pay of their white counterparts. For the second consecutive year, the network has almost all-white male meads in its programming – especially when it comes to freshman shows.

Network president Kelly Kahl (who replaced Glenn Geller, who retired due to health issues) defended his network’s diversity record. “We have two shows with diverse leads this year that we didn’t have on the schedule last year. We have a midseason show with a lead character who’s gay. And over the last few years, if you look at the number of diverse series regulars, that’s up almost 60 percent.”

However, Variety TV Critic Maureen Ryan noted there wasn’t a single person of color in CBS’ casting department.

Race issues are nothing new to CBS – and you can only look to Chicago to see what a problem it is. In 1985, CBS-owned WBBM-TV was boycotted by Operation PUSH after the station demoted longtime anchor Harry Porterfield, resulting in the station dropping into the local news ratings basement just two years alter. In 2011, the station drew ire from black leaders and Rep. Bobby Rush after they maliciously edited a video stating a four-year stating wanted to be a “gangbanger” when he grew up.

The Honolulu market where Five-O is based is more than 60 percent Asian – even the original version with Jack Lord had Asian cast members, while another Hawaii-set crime drama (Magnum P.I.) regularly featured Asian actors. So it’s no surprise the network continues to fumble the ball when it comes to diversity. The network continues to be run like it was when penny-pinching Larry Tisch owned the place – even as The Church Of Tisch claims to be “America’s Most Watched Network.”

Kahl stated “there is change happening on CBS.” Sorry, dude – we’re not seeing it.

In other CBS TCA news:

Keeping in the diversity theme, the reboot of the classic ABC series SWAT does have an African-American lead (Shemar Moore) and at TCA, producers said they plan to show both sides of the Blue Lives Matter/Black Lives Matter debate as police brutality continues to be a hot-button topic.

“It’s not Black Lives Matter. It’s All Lives Matter. … It’s fear, it’s racism, it’s terrorism.”, Moore pointed out to critics at the tour. Rockford native Shawn Ryan, who created cop dramas The Shield and Chicago Code, said “I think you can be pro-police and also pro-truth” when asked how the show would balance between the two viewpoints. The worst thing the show could do however, is offending both sides, and it may be a recipe for a quick cancellation.

The original series  – a spinoff of ABC’s The Rookies, was not a success, lasting just fourteen months between 1975 and 1976 – and an unsuccessful 2003 movie – which questions why CBS would reboot this turd of a series, which already looks like a waste. The only thing notable about this bland show was the instrumental theme song went to number one on Billboard’s Hot 100.

At the panel for Star Trek: Discovery, producers revealed more about the upcoming series on CBS’ All-Access streaming service. For one, the series is set in the universe before the original Star Trek. Another twist is serializing episodes – something Star Trek: Deep Space Nine did in its later seasons. “This is by far the most serialized version of Star Trek that has ever existed”, said executive producer Avika Goldsman. “It’s long-form character storytelling.”

Also noted is the reason why the series premiere was pushed back to September of this year from its original May 2016 and January 2017 dates – so they can deliver the best possible version of the show. Former showrunner Bryan Fuller (of “Pushing Daisies” fame) left his mark on the show by redesigning the show’s sets and its characters – notably the Klingons and using a male name for a woman on the show.

At the tour, CBS announced three new original series for All Access: dramas Strange Angel and $1, and a new comedy from Will Arnett, No Activity.

As for Discovery, the pilot episode premieres Sept. 24 on CBS after 60 Minutes, with the second episode being made available to CBS All-Access subscribers immediately afterward. From that point a new episode of Discovery debuts every Sunday.

Chuck Lorre admitted he is a “nervous wreck” preparing for the launch of Young Sheldon, the Big Bang spinoff set to debut this fall – mainly because if it so different than the other sitcoms he used to work on. “It’s an entirely different animal, Lorre said. It’s a wholly different way to tell a story and the working process is very different. It’s much slower. But the end result is something to be proud of, really. I love the pilot.”, referring to the show’s single-camera format – a first for Lorre.

Young Sheldon of course, is the spin-off prequel to The Big Bang Theory. CBS felt since the series – with nine-year old Iain Armitage in the title role as nine-year old Sheldon Cooper, should be shot in the format. In other words, it’ll be closer to ABC’s single-cam family sitcoms (The Goldbergs, black-ish, etc.) than the traditional CBS sitcom. In fact, Lorre said The Wonder Years – an ABC first single-cam sitcom from the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, was the inspiration for Young Sheldon.

Jim Parsons, who plays Sheldon on Big Bang, provides the narrative voiceover for Young Sheldon and is the executive producer. The show debuts on Sept. 25.

As expected, The producers of Kevin Can Wait has opted not to recast Erinn Hayes role in the series as they decided to eliminate the character altogether by killing her off and jumping ahead in time. Hayes decided to leave the show after casting Kevin James’ former co-star Leah Remini on a permanent basis.

All they need to do now is bring in Jerry Stiller and rechristen it The King Of Queens 2.0.