CBS executive: network lagging on diversity but trying

Joel McHale participates in "The Great Indoors" panel during the CBS Television Critics Association summer press tour on Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2016, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — CBS' entertainment president defended his network's efforts to air more inclusive series even as it introduces a fall slate of new sitcoms and dramas with white male stars.

Glen Geller, fielding a barrage of diversity-related questions at a TV critics meeting Wednesday, repeatedly said the network must improve "and we know it."

"In terms of leads, we're definitely less diverse this year than last year, and we need to do better," Geller said. But a number of actors of color are part of series ensembles, he said, and progress is being made in other areas.

"We also need to look behind the camera as well," he said, with diversity at CBS to be found, for example, among more than half the directors on "Madam Secretary" and "The Odd Couple."

Asked why the executive producers or "showrunners" on new CBS series are all white, Geller responded that the network "picked up the best shows from the pilots we made."

CBS' freshman shows, including an update of "MacGyver" and a show inspired by the early career of Phil McGraw, feature Michael Weatherly, Kevin James, Joel McHale and Dermot Mulroney among other white stars.

Minority characters are joining returning series. Among them: African-American actor Nelsan Ellis joining the cast of "Elementary," Latino actor Wilmer Valderrama coming on board as an agent on "NCIS" and black actress-comedian Aisha Tyler becoming a series regular on "Criminal Minds.'"

At midseason, CBS will debut "Doubt," starring African-American transgender actress Laverne Cox ("Orange is the New Black") alongside Katherine Heigl, and "Training Day" with black actor Justin Cornwell starring opposite Bill Paxton.

Other networks have made strides, most notably ABC with series including "black-ish" and "Scandal" that are topped by minority actors. The day before Geller spoke to the Television Critics Association, FX Networks chief John Landgraf discussed his efforts to quickly and successfully address a lack of minority directors.

Why is a lack of diversity so entrenched at CBS?

"Look, I'm acknowledging we need to do better," said Geller, who took over as CBS Entertainment president last fall.

Last year, the Associated Press did an analysis of the ethnic diversity of cast members on prime-time comedies and dramas on the major broadcast networks, comparing the results to 2000 when civil rights groups protested new programming slates nearly devoid of minorities.

CBS, the nation's most popular network, had the most diversity 15 years ago but the least in 2015, the AP found.

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