CBS Boss Defends Lack of Women in New Fall Slate

A year after the network found itself in hot water for a lack of diversity, it is experiencing deja vu for its male-focused new programming.
CBS
Jeremy Piven in "Wisdom of the Crowd"

CBS may be home to more female viewers, but its new 2017-18 programming features a disconcerting lack of women in leading roles.  

Ahead of its upfront presentation to ad buyers Wednesday, CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves met with reporters and was asked to defend his network's very male-leaning new programming.

"We do a number of pilots, a lot of them have women in starring roles. There are a lot of women in the schedule, in this new schedule," Moonves told reporters Wednesday. "The best pilots went at the end of the day and we think our track record is OK."

This season, CBS picked up seven new comedies and dramas: By the Book, starring Jay R. Ferguson; Instinct with Alan Cumming; Me, Myself and I with lead Bobby Moynihan;
9JKL with Mark Feuerstein; SEAL Team with David Boreanaz; SWAT starring Shemar Moore and Jay Harrington; Wisdom of the Crowd with Jeremy Piven; and Big Bang Theory prequel Young Sheldon, starring youngster Iain Armitage as the younger version of Jim Parsons' Sheldon and Zoe Perry.

"More women watch CBS percentage-wise than any other network so our shows have a lot of female appeal," Moonves said, singing out Tea Leoni vehicle Madam Secretary and Elementary, co-starring Lucy Liu. "I don't think we've ever had to apologize for having Madam Secretary and Lucy Liu and [CBS All Access digital series] The Good Fight and [the since-canceled] The Good Wife and I think we do fine in that area."

The executive — pinch-hitting for network president Glenn Geller who suffered a heart attack and has been on medical leave recuperating ("he's doing better," Moonves said) — noted CBS' marching orders remain the same: pick up the best pilots to series. On the development side, CBS passed on eight pilots — with six of those starring or featuring women as the co-lead (Amy Brenneman in The Get; Poppy Montgomery in Missoni Control; Kristin Chenoweth in Perfect Citizen; Sharon Leal in the untitled Jenny Lumet; Alice Eve in Hannah Royce's Questionable Choices; and Rebecca Rittenhouse in Real Life).

Overall, Moonves said, viewers (and critics) should look at the entirety of CBS Corp. "When I look at the totality of who CBS is, I look at news, I look at daytime, I look at sports, I look at Showtime, I look at The CW — they're all part of our family — and when you look at the totality of that, I think we're fine in terms of the amount of women who are behind the camera [and] in front of the camera. I think we're doing a very good job and I don't think we're looking in the wrong direction. On the contrary."

The issue comes a year after CBS was criticized for its lack of inclusion — and women — onscreen with this season's schedule, which included shows starring Matt LeBlanc, Kevin James, Michael Weatherly and a cadre of other white stars. Geller, in defending his network, pointed to Madam Secretary, Mom and the since-canceled 2 Broke Girls when asked about the gender disparity while stressing that the network's then-new series "are more diverse this year than last year.... We are definitely moving in the right direction." 

CBS renewed five freshman shows from its 2016-17 lineup. All five feature male leads, four of whom are white.  

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