Many corporations have issued statements over the last couple of months using all the right words and Twitter profile pictures to express their support for the extensive anti-police brutality and Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the death of George Floyd, and calling for an end to systemic abuses of power within their industries. However few have gone as far as US TV network CBS in taking bold, concrete action to address the historically-poor representation of people of colour within the entertainment industry.
In a statement issued on Monday (and care of Variety), new CBS Entertainment Group CEO George Cheeks announced that the company would be implementing representation targets for script development and its various writers rooms. The company will be setting aside 25% of its 2021-2022 script development budget to projects created or co-created by BIPOC creators – which stands for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. That’s a new acronym for me, but according to CBS’ own reporting it’s been gaining in popularity over the last couple of years.
Further, Cheeks also announced a minimum 40% BIPOC representation target for their writers’ rooms in the 2021-2022 season, with the intent of increasing that representation to 50% in the following season. They’ve also stated their intent to employ additional BIPOC writers to bolster their writing rooms for some shows in the upcoming 2020-2021 season. This is a huge step for the network which scored extremely low in a report on racial diversity in the workplace just a few short years ago. It also stands as a challenge to the other giants in the industry who says the right words, but whose actions rarely speak louder.
As Cheeks said at the announcement:
“While steady progress has been made in recent years both in front of and behind the camera, change needs to happen faster, especially with creators and leadership roles on the shows. As a network with ambitions to be a unifier and an agent of change at this important time, these new initiatives will help accelerate efforts to broaden our storytelling and make CBS programming even more diverse and inclusive.”
CBS is home to many highly-popular and long-running crime procedurals such as NCIS, Blue Bloods, S.W.A.T., and the recently-ended Criminals Minds and Hawaii Five-0. The protests in both the US and across the world over the last months have led to a spotlight being shone on procedurals of this type, with many rightly calling out the tired cliché of the hero cop who bucks the system that tries to hold him back from getting the bad guy.
As someone who’ll be finishing a binge watch of British procedural Line of Duty by the end of the week, the difference between how that show portrays police behaviour (and many other British cop shows for that matter) compared to how US shows tend to glorify the attitude of “shoot first and asks questions with your fist later” is depressingly stark, and shows just how much work is required to bring such much-needed reality into those fantasies. Hopefully the diversification of the writers’ room will be a big step in that direction, because black and blue isn’t simply black and white, and having diverse viewpoints contributing to the writing of these TV series will lead to better TV for everyone.
Last Updated: July 15, 2020