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CBS Has a White Cast Plus Token POC Issue

We all know that television has a representation problem. So many of the shows we watch only feature a few characters who aren’t white or men or both, and although most broadcasting networks have begun to understand that America (and elsewhere) want television that represents themselves, we have a long ways to go.

Still, last year ABC greenlighted five shows that ended up having very diverse casts—not only by racial makeup but also by gender and, in some cases, sexuality.

And, Fox is doing superbly with Empire while The CW has Jane the Virgin and NBC has Chicago Fire.

Yet—CBS won’t get the hint.

Flagship Shows

All but three of CBS’s shows in the last year have the Mainly White Cast Plus One/Two POC problem especially their two flagship franchises—CSI and NCIS:CSI: Miami has two people of color at any one time;

    • CSI: NY has had one black man for the entire run of the show!;
    • CSI: Crime Scene Investigation currently has zero non-white characters starring or recurring yet, at one point, had one black man;
    • NCIS currently has one black man;
    • Los Angeles has 1 black man;
    • New Orleans only has one black woman.

As for CBS’s non-franchise shows, they definitely lack in representation too.

Stalker,at least, has Maggie Q as the lead, but the show itself is pretty messed up, which is another discussion entirely, and Scorpion, similarly, has Elyes Gabel in the lead but, his characters ethnicity is portrayed as super ambiguous whereas Jadyn Wong as Happy is explicitly eastern-Asian.

And, the majority of characters who aren’t white are women. This just smacks of “Look boss, we’re hiring a woman who isn’t white! That’s all we gotta do right?” So really, this article should be titled “CBS Has A White Male+One (Two Sometimes) Women Of Color Problem”.

To be fair, CBS does have Hawaii Five-0, which only has two white male leads, and Elementary, which is the network’s one saving grace because Elementary has two non-white main characters as well as a long list ofrecurring and guest characters who aren’t white, men, straight, or cis! Candis Cayne for example portrays Mrs. Hudson. Finally, The Mentalist actually had three characters of various ethnicities before ending!

So—what’s the deal? Why is the network that gets a ridiculous metric ton of viewers not creating more diverse shows?

Maybe the problem is that CSI and NCIS still get pretty great ratings which, unsurprisingly, skew older (and whiter).

From a capitalist standpoint though—which is what broadcast TV is about—CBS should want to have diverse shows. They would gain younger viewers in turn making advertisers more money.

Maybe, now that Empire is breaking 23 year-long records in ratings and making Fox and its advertisers all the money, CBS will get its act together.

I’d rather have twenty pilots that have diverse casts because networks want to make money as opposed to having three diverse pilots with only one picked up.

While media representation will never fix the problems that we face every day, seeing ourselves in media does a lot for increasing empathy and understanding.

Plus, from a story perspective, diverse characters make for more interesting TV.


  • Seher

    Seher is a Managing Editor at The Fandomentals focusing on the ins and outs of broadcast TV. Representation on screen and behind the scenes are one of many specialties. Otherwise, she's reading away for her anthropology graduate program. pc: @poika_


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