CBS executives said they were "not comfortable" with some backstage aspects of reality franchise Big Brother, following accusations of bullying and discrimination against cast members of color, and producers of the show have since received bias training.
"In the case of Big Brother, we learned that a producer in an attempt to get a soundbite from one of the houseguests overstepped. That producer was reprimanded, received unconscious bias training, as did all the producers on the show," Thom Sherman, senior executive vice president, programming, told journalists at the Television Critics Association summer press tour on Thursday. "We don't believe that an incident like that will happen again."
In July, housemate Kemi Fakunle accused the show of using bullying tactics against people of color and giving sympathetic edits to white housemates who made racist and threatening comments on the live stream.
"I am extremely disappointed and disgusted by the behavior I am being made aware of that occurred thus far in the Big Brother house," she wrote in a statement after being evicted from the show. "The degrading and threatening comments made by some houseguests and laughed at by others are outrageous and hard to see. I am saddened to be associated with such a negative display of human character and am horrified that this is now a part of my life story."
When pressed on how the incident will be addressed to shows across the CBS slate, Kelly Kahl, president of CBS Entertainment, said he believed the incidents on Big Brother this summer are not representative of the CBS reality culture and that the company has all producers take training to ensure a safe environment for contestants.
"All of our shows and producers receive unconscious bias training," he said. "Most people who have been on those shows speak very fondly of their experience. I am not sure that we can always edit the show — in the case of all these shows, there are thousands of hours that are condensed down to 42 minutes per episode. We're simply not able to show every single thing that happens. We strive and the producers strive to show a good representation of what happens and I think they do a good job of that."
Kahl did admit that he was uncomfortable with what he heard was happening on Big Brother this summer but said CBS will not be making any decisions about the future of the show until the end of the season.
"I would say that we've heard [about] things on the show that we are not comfortable with hearing. We will absolutely after the season is over take a look at the show," he said. "After each season, we always go back and look and ask if there's anything else we can do better next year. That is something we will do after this season is over."
Big Brother 21 airs Wednesdays and Thursdays at 9/8c and Sundays at 8/7c on CBS.
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