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CBS Programming Bosses ‘Feeling Good About Our Diversity’ With Fall Schedule

CBS’ fall 2018 schedule includes seven original scripted series with people of color in leading roles. The number represents a significant uptick for a lineup that has for years been criticized for a dearth of onscreen inclusion.

“We’re feeling good about our diversity,” said CBS Entertainment president Kelly Kahl, who spoke with reporters Wednesday along with top CBS programming exec Thom Sherman at a breakfast where they revealed the network’s fall schedule.

After the two execs were elevated to their current positions last year, they faced a barrage of questions about diversity and inclusion at the Television Critic Association summer press tour. On Wednesday, Kahl said that growing the level of inclusion in the network’s programming had been a priority going into this development season.

“We sat in front of a lot of you at TCA and said that we were going to do it,” Kahl said. “I think quite frankly there were a lot of eye rolls, and I think if you look at the schedule, we did what we said we were going to do.”

New series “The Neighborhood,” “Happy Together,” “Magnum P.I.,” “FBI,” and “God Friended Me” all feature people of color in leading roles, as do returning series “SWAT” and “NCIS: Los Angeles.”

Not present Wednesday was CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves, currently engaged in a legal standoff with CBS’ controlling shareholder, Shari Redstone, over the fate of proposed merger with Viacom. Kahl and Sherman on Wednesday declined to speak about the lawsuit filed Monday by CBS against Redstone, but said that Moonves’ level of involvement in programming decisions had not been lessened.

Kahl and Sherman did dive into the programming decisions made leading into Wednesday’s scheduled upfront presentation to advertisers — including the decision to cancel comedy “Kevin Can Wait” starring Kevin James. The show had been the subject of a massive creative retooling heading into the second season, with series regular Erinn Hayes departing and Leah Remini, James’ former “Kevin Can Wait” co-star, joining the show.

“Numbers,” Kahl said when asked why the show had been canceled. “It was a strong show for us. The numbers were headed in the wrong direction as the year went on. And looking forward, we didn’t think it was strong enough to anchor a night for us.”

Sherman added, “Creatively the show made a choice at the beginning of last year. We all agreed to go along with it. And the audience didn’t seem to respond to it.”

Sherman was also asked whether the network was considering picking up the “Mad About You” revival being shopped by Sony Pictures Television.”It has been pitched and it’s still being discussed,” Sherman said.

The future of “The Big Bang Theory” was also addressed. The Chuck Lorre-produced comedy’s core cast members have one season remaining on their current contracts, but Kahl said that the door is open for additional seasons.

“We are hopeful that there may be more,” Kahl said.

Sherman added, “As long as Chuck and those guys continue to think there are stories to tell, we’ll take it for as long as they want.” Kahl continued, “We would certainly hope to get a few more years out of it. It’s not slowing down. It’s in peak form right now. Zero viewer loss from a year ago. And it might actually be up when you add in delayed viewing.”

Kahl and Sherman also revealed plot details of the new “Murphy Brown” revival, which will feature characters from the series’ original run working on a morning cable-news show called “Murphy in the Morning.” Lead character Murphy Brown’s son will work on a rival show.

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