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CBS Rolls Out Diversity Targets for Unscripted Programming

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CBS is making serious strides to improve its diversity both on- and off-camera.

On Tuesday, the broadcast network announced its representation targets for unscripted content in the 2021/2022 season. These include an edict that 50% of reality show casts must be Black, Indigenous, or People of Color (BIPOC).

They’ve also set contributing fiscal goals. At least 25% of the network’s annual unscripted development budget must now go towards creators and producers that are BIPOC.

These numbers follow CBS’s scripted show quotas that were introduced this summer. These outline that at least 25% of the scripted development budget must go to BIPOC creators, writers, and producers.

Writers’ rooms will also be staffed with at least 40% BIPOC writers in the 2021/2022 season. That number will increase to 50% in the 2022/2023 season.

Past Missteps

CBS is the first US network to introduce these hard targets for diversity. It should be noted, however, that these efforts were born out of intense criticism for past missteps.

In 2017, they were called out by a Race in the Writers’ Room study from Color of Change Hollywood. CBS and the CW ranked as the worst broadcast networks with respect to diversity in their writers’ rooms.

“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,” said George Cheeks, President and Chief Executive Officer for the CBS Entertainment Group. “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.”

Improvements On and Off Camera

CBS has announced it will develop future initiatives to expand diversity in all creative and production teams involved in the network’s unscripted content.

In addition, all CBS unscripted series will implement sensitivity/bias and anti-harassment training for all cast and crew before the start of each production.

All productions will also have an on-site professional that cast and crews can safely report concerns and incidents to.

CBS previously received criticism for mismanaging inclusivity on the sets of its flagship reality shows Big Brother and Survivor.

Last June, former Survivor contestant Julia Carter released an essay outlining her treatment on the show. This included being called a racial slur on day one of production. She also says she received backlash when she voiced concerns over exclusion during the first four episodes of Season 38.

“There is a significant difference between diversity and inclusion. Casting a few Black faces each season simply isn’t enough. Include them in the story. Stop giving them stereotypical edits that perpetuate the same stereotypes that many of us come on the show to combat,” Carter wrote.

Hopefully the measures CBS is introducing will make strides to ensure those experiences are a thing of the past.

“The reality TV genre is an area that’s especially underrepresented. [It] needs to be more inclusive across development, casting, production and all phases of storytelling,” said Cheeks. “As we strive to improve all of these creative aspects, the commitments announced today are important first steps in sourcing new voices to create content and further expanding the diversity in our unscripted programming, as well as on our Network.”