In one of the most contentious sessions of the Television Critics Association's summer press tour so far, CBS Entertainment president Glenn Geller was repeatedly questioned about the lack of diversity in his network's fall slate, which features five new shows starring white men.
"We're very mindful at CBS about the importance of diversity and inclusion," said Geller. "We need to do better, and we know it."
Geller repeated some version of "we need to do better" at least seven separate times in response to questions from reporters about his fall shows, which star Matt LeBlanc, Kevin James, Michael Weatherly, Dermot Mulroney and Joel McHale.
"I am acknowledging we need to be do better," said Geller, who said the cast ensembles overall are more diverse than in previous seasons. "That is our commitment to diversity. Those aren't just words. That is real action."
Geller's words seemed to ring hollow a day after FX CEO John Landgraf told TCA reporters that in the space of several months, his network had made a concerted effort to correct its lack of female and nonwhite directors. As a result, more than half of FX and FXX's episode directors are now women or nonwhite.
"I think we have made that commitment" to improving diversity as well, insisted Geller. He said CBS has fared better behind the camera, with directors and writers, but struggled when asked why all of his new showrunners were white men. "Sometimes our showrunners are diverse; sometimes our showrunners are not diverse," he said.
In part to blunt some of the criticism that the network knew would be coming from reporters, Geller had announced CBS added 16 new regular cast roles to new and recurring series, 11 of which were people of color. "We are not trying to make up for something," he said.
CBS, which finished No. 1 last season in total viewers and in the 18-49 demo, has five new dramas this season "from very procedural genres" including crime, medical, legal and adventure. "Each has the potential to reach the broadest audience possible," said Geller.
Geller praised The Late Show With Stephen Colbert's "daring and creatively impressive two weeks of live shows," and noted that they generated the show's two biggest viral clips to date: Jon Stewart's surprise guest appearance and Laura Benanti's impersonation of Melania Trump.
"Chris Licht has been an outstanding addition as showrunner of the Late Show," said Geller. "We're very proud of what we've accomplished here."
CBS will continue Late Show's live-show momentum by broadcasting it live three times in the fall: following the first and third presidential debates (on Sept. 26 and Oct. 19), and after the vice presidential debate on Oct. 4.
In other CBS late-night news, James Corden's next Carpool Karaoke passenger will be Britney Spears. Her segment will air on The Late Late Show With James Corden on Thursday, Aug. 25.
Geller said summer drama Zoo has been renewed for a third season, which will air next summer. The series is "very popular on Netflix and with international audiences," said Geller. No decision was made about underperforming BrainDead and American Gothic.
Big Brother was renewed for two more seasons to be broadcast in the summers of 2017 and 2018. That's in addition to a digital-only series of the show that will air on CBS All Access this fall.
CBS is jumping into the true-crime genre kickstarted by Making a Murderer and The People v. O.J. Simpson with The Case of: JonBenet Ramsey, as original investigators and other experts re-examine the case. The six-hour docuseries debuts Sunday, Sept. 18, the night before the new season kicks off.
The Big Bang Theory is the No. 1 comedy on TV, but the cast's contracts are up for renewal after the coming season. Geller, however, isn't worried. "We are very confident that everyone involved wants more Big Bang past year 10, and I know [studio] Warner Bros. will make those deals," he said.
After letting Supergirl fly to The CW for Season 2, the network hasn't closed the door on that genre. "If we heard the right superhero pitch and we thought it was for us, we would absolutely buy it," said Geller.