He contended that CBS offers diversity in front of and behind the camera and in its corporate offices.
“And can we do better? I think we are,” he told a TV critics’ meeting Tuesday. “We’re not casting color blind, we’re casting color conscious.”
Two upcoming CBS series will offer “greatly diverse casts,” he said of “Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders,” starting March 16, and “Rush Hour,” debuting March 31.
The newcomer to the “Criminal Minds” franchise, about FBI agents who aid Americans in trouble abroad, includes African-American actor Tyler James Williams and Daniel Henney, who is of Korean descent. Its top-listed stars are Gary Sinise and Alana De La Garza.
“They’re taking the initiative to get it done,” Williams said of the network’s efforts.
His role “didn’t have an ethnicity attached to it, and it really just came down to who’s the best actor for the job. And I’m seeing CBS do that quite a bit,” Williams said in an interview.
The cast of “Rush Hour,” based on the Jackie Chan-Chris Tucker movie franchise, includes Justin Hires and Page Kennedy, who are black, and Jon Foo and Aimee Garcia.
Geller inherited a schedule that had lost ground in depicting ethnic diversity. The nation’s most popular network, which 15 years ago had the most diversity, has the least among the major broadcast networks, according to an Associated Press analysis of the fall 2014 schedule.
Black representation had slipped to just under 7 percent, less than half what it was in 1999, according to the AP’s tally from the network’s own cast lists. African-Americans make up more than 13 percent of the U.S. population.
Geller’s longtime predecessor, Nina Tassler, had consistently asserted the network was working to offer a fuller depiction of American diversity but that its success created less opportunity for series turnover and cast changes.
Geller, who has been with CBS in other posts for 14 years and was named entertainment president last September, made a point of introducing himself as a gay man.
“I’m diverse,” he told reporters. “I mentioned my husband earlier and I talk about him publicly because i want to normalize my diversity. CBS will always look like what America looks like, and it’s always evolving and changing.”
Whether the content of “Rush Hour” is a match for its cast diversity was the question raised by one reporter, who said he found the characters – a wisecracking black man, an Asian adept at martial arts – as stereotypical as they were in the movies.
Executive producer Bill Lawrence responded that the pilot episode doesn’t represent what the series will become.
“If we were to play those tropes week in and week out, we’d probably have a problem not only because it would offend people like yourself but because the audience wouldn’t respond to it,” Lawrence said.
Hires defended his role and the series, saying it doesn’t include negative stereotypes or a false view of America.
“I am African-American, I am a comedian, I crack jokes. …. This is the reality of who I am as a person,” he said.
Lynn Elber is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/lynn-elber and she can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter