CBS, CBS All Access and Pop TV at TCA : A Day of Diversity

By TV / Video Download Archives
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Pasadena, CA -- As did NBCU the day before, CBS opted to not open its day at the Winter 2019 Television Critics Association tour with an executive session, forfeiting the opportunity to set the narrative for its presentations and leaving its storytelling to chance.  This continues to be surprising at a time when everything in media is all about brands and companies telling their story.  Former CBS executives Leslie Moonves and Nina Tassler, among others, were outstanding in that regard.  Current CBS Entertainment President Kelly Kahl walked through fire at the Summer 2018 TCA tour and reinforced the respect that this organization has always had for him.

While there was no particular narrative here for CBS overall – and certainly no mention of the highly publicized internal personnel problems that continue to plague the company (and many others) – the network had a very strong morning, with effective and informative panels for two uncommonly ambitious midseason programs: The World’s Best and The Red Line.

The World’s Best is an outsized talent show that includes on-stage judges from 50 countries rating different acts alongside a celebrity panel including Drew Barrymore, Faith Hill and RuPaul Charles.  James Corden is the host.  (For further details, check out Steve Gidlow’s exclusive interview with Mike Darnell, series creator and President of Unscripted and Alternative Television at Warner Bros.)

The Red Line is an emotionally charged miniseries about the aftermath of a tragic shooting of a happily married gay black doctor by a frantic young white police officer at the scene of a violent robbery.  The show is, in a word, devastating from every angle.  The production values, together with a performance by star Noah Wyle that is destined to be nominated for every award possible, are premium-cable quality.  Given its subject matter, it will be interesting to see if it becomes a mainstream hit or if it proves too controversial and upsetting for casual consumption.  Greg Berlanti and Ava DuVernay are the executive producers.

CBS followed these two panels with a three-part panel for its freshman successes The Neighborhood, FBI and God Friended Me.  All three have already been renewed for next season, and a spin-off of FBI is in the works.

The network was heavily criticized at recent TCAs for a perceived lack of diversity in the casts of its programs.  That wasn’t necessarily true at the time (depending on one’s point of view), but the casts of these five shows certainly made clear that CBS heard the criticism and took action.

This was also true of the shows featured during sessions for CBS All Access and Pop TV later in CBS’ day.  CBS All Access had panels for its two signature shows, The Good Fight and Star Trek: Discovery, which revolve around commanding female characters portrayed by Christine Barnaski and Sonequa Martin-Green, respectively.

Pop TV introduced Flack, a limited series custom-made for anyone who has ever employed or otherwise dealt with a noxious Hollywood publicist.  In keeping with the theme of strong women that was the de facto narrative of the afternoon, Flack stars Anna Paquin, who is also an executive producer of the show.

The decidedly adult content of Flack and another new comedy coming to the network -- Florida Girls -- suggests that Pop TV is moving in the direction of other advertising supported cable networks that are moving into premium cable and streaming territory.   Consider this answer by Paquin to the challenge of filming a certain scene involving several naked men:  “We’re not allowed to show anybody’s genitalia, so head positioning was really important.  The gentlemen in question were wearing their c*ck socks.  We’re also not supposed to see those, because then you can tell they’re not really naked.”

It wasn’t your everyday TCA session.  Flack is going to fly.

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