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New CBS Entertainment Chief Vows to Boost Reality and Diversity on Network

Glenn Geller introduced himself himself to the Television Critics Association on Tuesday with a memorable description of his background: “I’m just a gay guy from Indiana who doesn’t play basketball.”

Geller had a smooth outing in his first major media appearance since his appointment in September as CBS Entertainment president. He told the TCA crowd at the Langham Huntington Hotel in Pasadena, Calif. that he was a big fan of reality TV and hoped to bring more unscripted fare to CBS’ air. He easily fielded questions about the fate of various CBS shows, from the end of “Mike & Molly” and possible end of “Person of Interest” and “The Good Wife” to expressing his enthusiasm for shows including “Supergirl” and “Madam Secretary.”

Geller made a point of mentioning his husband early on in his opening remarks, and he delivered his “gay guy from Indiana” laugh line with confidence. When pressed about the relative lack of diversity in CBS’ shows compared to its Big Four rivals, Glenn cited his status in representing the LGBTQ community as evidence that he is aware of the importance of viewers seeing the depth and breadth of America’s melting pot in primetime.

Geller said of his husband, “I talk about him publicly because I want to normalize my diversity.” And he added: “CBS will always reflect what America looks like.” But he acknowledged that the network needed to make more strides on both sides of the camera. He cited midseason dramas “Rush Hour” and “Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders,” both of which were showcased at TCA, as examples of CBS’ efforts to increase diversity in its casts.

“We’re not casting color blind; we’re casting color-conscious — the right roles for diversity,” he said. “That’s the kind of shows we’re putting on the air.”

On the reality front, Geller told the crowd that “Survivor” and “Big Brother” are “appointment television” for him. He noted that the first project he bought after his promotion to programming chief was the reality series “Hunted,” which he described as a blend of procedural elements with a classic reality-elimination contest. It’s based on a U.K. format that sends teams of two out into the country in an effort to avoid capture by “professional law enforcement” hunters.

“It brings the procedural element into the reality space — it literally feels tailor-made for CBS,” he said.

Geller opened the session by reeling off a list of CBS’ viewership stats, staring with the fact that in a world of 409 original series, CBS is home to six of the top 10 most-watched, led by “The Big Bang Theory” and “NCIS.” He made special mention of the Tom Selleck Friday drama “Blue Bloods,” which isn’t a noisy show but with 14 million viewers a week it has a larger audience than most scripted series on other networks, he asserted. “I think 14 million viewers is pretty damn sexy,” he said.

Among other topics Geller touched on during the 30-minute Q&A:

  • Stephen Colbert: CBS is happy with the new “Late Show” host’s performance since taking over the 11:35 p.m. slot in September. He’s not concerned about criticism that the show is too intellectual or leans toward a liberal audience. “I think the show is fantastic,” he said. “We want Stephen to be Stephen.”
  • “Supergirl”: Geller addressed head-on the question of whether the show is an odd fit with CBS’ audience profile. “It’s in essence a good-guys-putting-bad-guys-away show. She happens to be a superhero and she wears a cape.”
  • “Person of Interest”: Geller was noncommittal on whether the drama series would be ending after its upcoming fifth season of 13 episodes, which are expected to air in the spring. “It could function as both a series and a season finale,” Geller said of the fifth-season storyline.
  • Rival network execs: Geller got off a good ad-lib involving Fox TV Group chiefs Dana Walden and Gary Newman when asked what kind of welcoming he’s had in his new job from execs at other nets. “They all shared their programming strategy … at a sleepover at Dana and Gary’s house,” he joked.

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