“I’m just a gay guy from Indiana who doesn’t play basketball,” CBS Entertainment president Glenn Geller told the Television Critics Association (TCA) during his first major media appearance. Geller was promoted to lead the network back in September, and his admission marked him as the network’s first openly gay president — but will he do anything to improve the broadcast network’s lack of LGBT characters?
Early into his discussion with the TCA, Geller mentioned his husband by saying, “I talk about him publicly because I want to normalize my diversity. There is diversity at CBS. It exists in front and and behind the camera. Can we do better? I think we are.”
Others beg to differ. CBS has long been criticized for its overwhelming whiteness and it also placed last among the big five broadcast networks in the 2015 GLAAD Network Responsibility Index, which tracks LGBT representation across networks.
In the past, most of CBS’ LGBT characters have appeared as reality show contestants, as one-offs in its numerous crime shows or as recurring characters in sitcoms and dramas — once bisexual investigator Kalinda left The Good Wife, audiences seeking LGBT content were left with Ariana Grande’s gay half-brother Frankie as a fifth-place Big Brother finisher.
GLAAD also admonished the network’s 2015 programming for featuring a groan-worthy fake gay relationship storyline on the now defunct Two and a Half Men and for having barely any transgender representation at all. In contrast, CBS-owned premium cable channel Showtime had 18 regular or recurring LGBT characters, making it one of the most LGBT-inclusive cable channels overall.
As far as racial diversity goes, Geller mentioned new dramas Rush Hour and Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders as examples of shows with diverse casts. Rush Hour stars Justin Hinds and Jon Foo and, yes, it’s based on the 1998 film starring Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker.
CBS has been America’s most-watched network (as their ads like to remind you) for fourteen years, thanks largely to a slew of reality and police procedural shows, from Survivor and Big Brother to Criminal Minds and NCIS. They have a new show, Hunted, which actually combines the two, as pairs of regular people try to flee actual law enforcement officials. That sounds completely insane, but Geller might be on to something: six of the ten most-watched shows on TV are CBS shows.
The network’s biggest success stories include the Alison Janney sitcom Mom, Tea Leoni in Madam Secretary and the Tom Selleck drama Blue Bloods. But CBS is also responsible for 2 Broke Girls, a show that has been criticized repeatedly over the years for being “so racist it’s baffling.”
At the press conference, Geller also discussed a number of big CBS shows might be coming to an end this spring: Melissa McCarthy comedy Mike & Molly officially got the axe after six years, and industry experts are predicting The Good Wife and Person of Interest could see similar fates soon. And contrary to popular opinion, Geller says that Stephen Colbert is doing a fantastic job with the Late Show.
While it remains to be seen whether Geller’s presidency will increase CBS’ diversity, thankfully he’s not the only gay network head in Hollywood: openly gay executive Bob Greenblatt has been leading NBC Entertainment for years now. And while NBC ranks near CBS in terms of LGBT representation, GLAAD has praised it for having greater racial diversity and for airing historically groundbreaking shows like Ellen and Will & Grace with LGBT characters in leading roles rather than playing games in the background.
(featured image: gay Big Brother contestant Frankie Grande)