S,W.A.T. Else Is New? CBS Favors One Color More Than The Other.

The surprising news that went down late Friday that S.W.A.T., a show that lasted a season and half in its first iteration but had enough success tp have a run four times as long in this century, would not be returning to CBS did not sit well with the show’s appealing and outspoken star Shemar Moore.

The somewhat reserved TV Line.com’s Dave Nemetz posted a story yesterday that laid out the facts that apparently went into the final decision thusly:

CBS cancelled S.W.A.T. on Friday, and the May 19 season finale will now serve as a series finale. This season, S.W.A.T. has averaged 6.8 million total viewers and a 0.7 rating, up 6% in audience and off just a tenth in the demo from its Season 5 numbers. But as Deadline reported in March, the Sony TV/CBS Studios co-production was facing some belt-tightening before any renewal was handed out.  Moore, who plays Hondo on the long-running procedural, responded to the cancellation news in an Instagram video, admitting: “I’m a little bit sad. I’m a lot of bit sad… S.W.A.T. got cancelled. It makes no sense.” He pointed to the show’s ratings: “The last two years, we’ve been killing it… We’ve done nothing wrong. We’ve done everything that was asked for.

THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER’s Ryan Gajewski reported the full context of Moore’s IG post, which reveals a more emotional and activist tone (the link is below).

I will be fine, but I’m upset because I busted my whole entire ass to prove that I could do this, and I did prove that I could do this,” he said. “I understand it’s not personal — it’s business — but I still have faith that SWAT will live to see another day. So I’m asking my homies, my fans and my baby girls, and the rest of the world who follow me or follow the show, follow the cast, my brothers and my sisters: Make some fucking noise. And let them know that canceling SWAT is a fucking mistake.”

I’ve had the good fortune to have worked with Moore and the fine people who he is standing up for in his video.  He is a principled and fiercely loyal partner who strongly believes he was been wronged, and when you look like him you’d be wise to listen. The timing and callousness of this cancellation is indeed tone-deaf.  But some of his argument is lost when he insists that the show has somehow been singled out in this process.

For one, as Nemetz gently points out, the argument that S.W.A.T. is THE source for diversity is perhaps a bit overinflated:

“Did you know that I am the only African American male lead on network TV?… S.W.A.T. is the most diverse show on CBS.” (For the record, CBS also has The Neighborhood starring Cedric the Entertainer and The Equalizer starring Queen Latifah, and shows like The CW’s All American also have Black leading men.)  Moore also pointed out 9-1-1’s Angela Bassett, to be fair, offering “much respect”.

But if he were to ask one of his bosses Shawn Ryan about all this, Ryan might recall that many of the same dynamics surrounding this are eerily similar to those that were in play 13 springs ago when CBS decided the fate of a four-year-old show that Ryan and 20th Century FOX TV were awaiting a renewal decision on, THE UNIT.  Reportedly, CBS had to decide between it and the veteran COLD CASE for the network’s final procedural hour renewal.  Ratings and trajectories were similar.  But COLD CASE was a strong international seller for CBS’ sibling Paramount, and had more episodes in the can to sell a viable back end with.  THE UNIT and an outside supplier got the short end of the stick.  Despite the fact that, as you can see, it had a pretty diverse cast of its own.

This time, CBS has been deciding between S.W.A.T. and  newer shows such as EAST NEW YORK for renewal.  They also have two strong-testing semi-spinoffs of previously successful IP, a reboot of MATLOCK featuring Kathy Bates and a GOOD WIFE-verse spinoff, ELSBETH, in contention for a pickup.  All of those contenders hit some of the diversity tickmarks, too.

The decision this time is one being made by CBS’ new head of entertainment Amy Reisenbach, who came up through the system as an executive in charge of shows like EAST NEW YORK and last year was among those who greenlit the MATLOCK and ELSBETH projects.  And this all happened in a week when many in the investment community  trashed parent company Paramount Global’s streaming strategy.  One can only surmise that as she is striving for acceptance in a changing culture, the decisions made by someone less experienced that the likes of a Kelly Kahl or a Les Moonves that determined THE UNIT’s fate are anything but fairer when it comes to an outside supplier winning a slot over content that could, in success, more easily be repurposed new and used to Paramount + (ugg) SHOWTIME.  Pure and simple, wholly owned CBS shows, in success, make more and have more financial flexibility than shows with an outside studio partner.  And this was hardly the time–certainly not with a WGA strike and potentially others to follow this summer, let alone an outright national recession–to have expected an exception.

As Moore repeatedly says in his IG post, he felt he could not hold his tongue.  As Gajewski further quoted:

CBS, when I got hired to be Hondo on SWAT, was getting a lot of flak for lack of diversity. If I post this, and I think I might, I will get in a lot of trouble with CBS because I’m calling them out. Because they’ve been wonderful to me for 26 out of my 29-year career. But to abruptly get told that you’re canceled when you led us to believe last week — and the week before, and the week before that — that we would have some semblance of a season seven to at least say goodbye, if not continue. And to abruptly be told, ‘You’re done.’

Much respect, Shemar, but as someone who wants you and your team to rise from the dead I can’t help but point out that you’re not wrong that there was color blindness involved in this call.  But that color is green, not black.

Until next time…

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