CBS' New Chief on Diversity Goals, Peak TV Concerns and Colbert's Future

Glenn Geller - H 2016
Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic

Glenn Geller survived his first turn before the press.

Mere months into his tenure as CBS Entertainment president, he appeared Tuesday on the Television Critics Association's winter press tour stage to give a sense of who he is and what he is looking for in his new role. “I’m a big fan of reality,” Geller told the room, citing Survivor and Big Brother as "appointment TV" in his home. On the scripted side, he rattled off favorites including Mom, Madam Secretary and Blue Bloods. He acknowledged the latter wasn’t the sexiest pick, and then added with enthusiasm, “[But] 14 million viewers is pretty damn sexy."

Before opening himself up to a barrage of questions, which centered on topics including diversity and the shelf-life for many of CBS' shows, the former current programming chief and 14-year company veteran hammered on what was a strong fall for CBS. He reminded the Pasadena ballroom that all of CBS’ fall freshman series have been granted a back-nine order, and that the network was on track to end the season as the most watched for the 13th time in 14 years. 

To that end, Geller revived the “peak TV” conversation, though his take was somewhat different than many of his rivals. Rather than bemoan the intense competition and fractured market, he touted CBS’ place in a landscape that now features 409 scripted series across broadcast, cable and scripted. Of those 409 shows, Geller noted that his network had the No. 1 and No. 2 most-watched series in Big Bang Theory and NCIS. CBS also had six of the top 10 most-watched shows, 18 of the top 30 and 28 of the top 50.

Here's how the exec used the remainder of his half-hour on stage:

Diversity plans

Geller was asked twice during the panel about CBS’ plans to increase diversity in its programming. The first time he fielded the question, he took a personal, candid approach: “I’m diverse. I fall into the LGBTQ category,” he explained, noting that he had mentioned his husband in his opening remarks in his ongoing attempt to “normalize” his diversity. "I’m just a gay guy from Indiana who doesn’t play basketball, but now I’m the president of entertainment at CBS,” he said to laughs. "There is diversity at CBS — it exists in front of the camera, behind the camera and in our offices.” Later, Geller added that CBS’ upcoming shows — Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders and Rush Hour — feature two of the most diverse casts that the network has had, and that diversity had been top of mind this development season, with projects targeting both African-American and Latina actors in the pipeline. (See Nancy Drew.) Of the latter, he added: “We’re not casting color blind, we’re casting color-conscious.”

The Future of ...

While Geller did use the TCA platform to confirm the forthcoming season of Mike and Molly would be the series' last, he insisted no decision had been made on the fate of Person of Interest. The comment came just three days after POI exec producer J.J. Abrams suggested the upcoming season would be the show's final one, and that the writers had approached the season finale as its series' finale. Geller's take: "It could function as a season or series finale." Not long after, the new chief let slip that The Good Wife creators Robert and Michelle King would be stepping down as showrunners after the critically acclaimed legal drama's current seventh season, leaving the room to wonder aloud about its future. In making the likely unplanned announcement, he stressed that the series had a "deep bench" of writers who could keep it going (during a post-panel scrum, he singled out veteran Craig Turk).

Staying the course with Colbert

Geller expressed no hesitation about his network's commitment to Stephen Colbert, who has failed to generate huge buzz or giant ratings for his Late Show broadcast iteration of late. When asked about a recent poll, which showcased that the host's numbers were considerably weaker among conservatives, the new network chief remained positive. "We want Stephen to be Stephen, and that’s exactly what he’s doing," Geller said from the stage, adding, "I think he's clearly the preeminent interviewer in late night. There’s plenty of room in late night ... and he [does] a fantastic show."

Geller's CBS

Viewers shouldn’t expect to see major changes with Geller at the helm. As he noted more than once on Tuesday, he’s been part of CBS’ programming team for more than a decade, and the shows at the network have long reflected his tastes. Which is not to say he doesn’t want to leave his mark and increasingly infuse his sensibilities the way his predecessor Nina Tassler had done on the job. Along those lines, Geller used the platform to tout his first series order, which he doled out to U.K. reality import Hunted, which features a team of regular people who go on the run from real-life law enforcement. If the former can outlast the latter, they win $100,000. From Geller’s perspective, it’s “tailor-made” for CBS in that it brings the network’s famous procedural elements to reality. 

Rival feedback

At the end of his first panel, Geller was asked if he'd heard from his competitors since taking the new job, to which he joked: "They all shared their programming strategies at a sleepover at [Fox co-CEOs Dana Walden and Gary Newman’s] house." (It's worth noting that one of Geller's first industry gigs was as current-rival Walden's assistant.) He then added with a revealing smile, "No, they all said, 'Good luck.' "