BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. >> CBS’ new entertainment bosses got more than a warm welcome as reporters grilled them on the network’s lack of diversity.
“We are absolutely moving in the right direction,” declared Kelly Kahl, who was named president of CBS Entertainment in May, the same time Thom Sherman, who was also on hand for today’s session, became senior executive vice president for programming.
The two execs were reminded that, for the second season in a row, no women landed the lead role of a new CBS series.
“We had six pilots with female leads, but those pilots were not felt to be as good as some of the other pilots,” said Sherman, quickly adding, “That had nothing to do with the female leads.”
As examples of other kinds of casting diversity, they pointed to the upcoming police thriller “S.W.A.T.” and returning comedy “Superior Donuts” as two shows with African-American stars — Shemar Moore and Jermaine Fowler, respectively.
A mid-season crime drama, “Instinct,” will star Alan Cumming, who is gay, as a former CIA operative who is gay.
“There is change happening on CBS,” Kahl said.
CBS was recently put on the spot with the departures of Asian actors Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park from “Hawaii Five-0” ahead of its eighth season. They both decided to exit after seeking, and failing to get, pay equal to their white co-stars, Alex O’Loughlin and Scott Caan.
“We tried our darnedest to keep them,” said Kahl, referring to renewed salary negotiations that followed the uproar.
In a different sort of cast change, the execs shared details on the Kevin James comedy “Kevin Can Wait,” which for its sophomore season will eliminate family man Kevin Gable’s wife Donna (departing costar Erinn Hayes) and reunite James with Leah Remini, his TV wife for nine seasons on “The King of Queens.”
The new season will flash forward roughly a year to find Donna killed off and Kevin Gable widowed, clearing the deck for Remini, who guest-starred in a couple of episodes that closed out last season.
Remini’s appearances on the show were as a stunt, not a tryout, Kahl said.
“But there was just an undeniable spark there,” he said, “and I think Kevin, the studios, and the network all got together and wanted to keep that magic and chemistry going forward.”