The other day, CBS announced the renewal of 18 returning series for the 2017-18 TV season. The network boasted it was "displaying the programming depth and stability of America's Most Watched Network."
Many of the 18 series are shows that nobody talks about, but they are watched and, yes, they are often the No. 1 shows on the night they are aired. Looking at the list of what CBS offers, night after night, is a reminder that many American viewers want reassurance, not change. They want dependability and sameness, not diversity. These viewers are the people who supported Donald Trump and still support him.
The renewals include the long-running Blue Bloods, Hawaii Five-0, Life in Pieces, Madam Secretary, Mom, NCIS, NCIS: Los Angeles, NCIS: New Orleans and Scorpion. Add to that shows that were launched in the last year – Bull, Kevin Can Wait, MacGyver, Man With a Plan and Superior Donuts. The list of 18 is rounded out with The Big Bang Theory, Survivor, 60 Minutes and 48 Hours.
Hardly anyone takes to Twitter to extol a new episode of Blue Bloods or the NCIS shows. Critics rarely write about them. But they are the bread and butter of television and, in Canada, Global and CTV cruise along to a profitable end by simulcasting many of these shows.
Like most mainstream TV watched by the tens of millions of viewers in the United States, CBS is in the business of consoling viewers. In the procedurals, the terrorists are thwarted and caught. The forces of law and order are reliable and mostly white. Multiculturalism barely exists. All of the new shows launched by CBS last fall featured only white male leading characters. All of the showrunners on CBS's new fall series were all white men.
When Glenn Geller, who runs the CBS network, came to talk to TV critics last summer to present the season, he faced a barrage of questions about the lack of diversity on CBS shows. He knew it was coming and he was prepared. He cited 16 new "series regulars" – actors who would play recurring roles on existing shows – and pointed out that 11 of the 16 were actors of colour.
Geller also cited Justin Cornwell, the co-star of the midseason drama Training Day, as an African-American actor in a consequential role. Further, he pointed out that a rejigged pilot for the midseason comedy Superior Donuts put African-American comedian Jermaine Fowler in a leading role. And he mentioned that Laverne Cox (from Orange Is the New Black) would be the first transgender actress to play a transgender series regular in the upcoming CBS legal drama Doubt.
Since then, Training Day has debuted and failed. The same is true of Doubt. Neither is a returning CBS show. Superior Donuts survives, possibly because it does, in fact, have a young African-American comedian in a lead role. And that helps on the diversity issue.
While Geller said, "I hear you, I really do, and I understand that we need to do better," on the issue of diversity, he was also blunt about the business of CBS creating and airing new shows: "We picked up the best shows from the pilots we made."
The "best shows" for CBS are Trumpism writ small. They exist in an America-first world in which military might is essential and right and the border is constantly under threat. CBS's family comedies feature working white men with solid jobs or, in the case of the hit Kevin Can Wait, are retired from solid jobs. The lead characters are white men who are white, chubby man-boys, decent-hearted but perplexed by a changing world. They are how Trump voters see themselves.
While much of the coverage of television these days is concentrated on the latest, challenging offering from HBO, FX or even Netflix, what unfolds on CBS, night after night, offers far greater insight into the American soul. Those who attach themselves to the progressive views contained inside much of the best of cable TV are not Trump supporters. Those who exist on a diet of CBS shows are. That doesn't mean they are ignorant or bigoted. They simply want reassurance that their United States still exists and it is celebrated.
It's all business for CBS. It's not about politics or ideology. In May, CBS will announce which batch of the 17 pilots it has invested in will become new series. More procedurals and family comedies, you can bet. More diverse? Unlikely. Trump won, after all.