Things have apparently gotten very fraught behind the scenes of CBS’ All Rise.
According to The New York Times, five out of seven writers on the Warner Bros.-produced series, which stars Simone Missick as a Los Angeles judge, have left the show since it debuted last fall. Those who’ve left include the show’s three highest ranking writers of color.
From the start of production, the Times reports, showrunner Greg Spottiswood, who is white, argued with the writers’ room on multiple occasions about race and gender.
Indian-American TV writer Sunil Nayar, who served as executive producer on the series, told the Times that he’d clashed with Spottiswood as he tried to make the show’s writing better represent its characters of color. He also noted that Spottiswood appeared to want him seen in public appearances but was far less interested in letting him be heard as an E.P.
“It became clear to me, when I left the show, that I was only there because I’m the brown guy,” Nayar told the Times. “Greg hired me to be his brown guy.”
Shernold Edwards, a Black woman writer, told the Times she’d also left All Rise after disputes with Spottiswood. “We had to do so much behind the scenes to keep these scripts from being racist and offensive,” she said.
In a statement Warner Bros. said, “As soon as we became aware of concerns in the All Rise writers’ room, we took steps to conduct a review of the work environment. The findings did not reveal conduct that would warrant removing series creator, Greg Spottiswood, from the Executive Producer role. We identified areas for improvement, and implemented procedures and protocols in response to the findings, which are resulting in the steps necessary to move forward with the series’ leadership in place.”
“As with all of our series, we have open communication with our cast, staff and crew to ensure a safe and respectful work environment for our entire workforce,” the statement continues. “In late 2019, despite significant efforts made by the Studio to retain Mr. Nayar, he asked to be released from his duties as executive producer/co-showrunner, a decision we ultimately supported. With respect to the writing staff departures, we greatly valued everyone on the team, including Ms. Edwards, and our ultimate goal was to retain them. We are extremely proud of the show and the contributions of the entire writers’ room.”
Edwards and Nayar said the problems emerged as early as the show’s second episode. Disputed scenes included one in which a Latin American gang terrorizes Angelenos with machetes; one that Spottiswood cut in which Missick’s judge character and a Black bailiff would have discussed racist policing; and another in which a naked man enters an elevator with two women including a domestic abuse survivor, who continue their conversation as though nothing happened. (Both the machete and elevator scenes were changed before they made it to air, after writers voiced concerns.)
Although CBS does not produce All Rise, the show and its success have been part of a slow turn-around for the Eye on race and diversity.
CBS’s struggles with race and diversity—both in its on-screen lineup and within the company itself—have been well documented. The company has faced scrutiny for conspicuously white TV line-ups that often lack leads of color. Last year executive Whitney Davis, who worked for five years within CBS Entertainment Diversity and Inclusion, called the network out for its “white problem.” Even the network’s Diversity Sketch Comedy Showcase is reportedly a bigoted mess.
In recent years, the Eye has been attempting to fix that record—both by diversifying its on-screen line-up and by purging problematic execs like producer Peter Lenkov, whom the network recently fired after an investigation found he’d shown favoritism toward male colleagues and spoken inappropriately to women and colleagues of color. This summer CBS also committed one-quarter of its script development budget to projects from creators and producers of color and set a goal to populate its writers rooms with 50 percent writers of color. CBS Television Studios, meanwhile, struck a production deal with the NAACP.
As for the future of All Rise: Warner Bros. appointed Black showrunner Dee Harris-Lawrence, whose credits include OWN’s David Makes Man, a co-showrunner on All Rise in December, the Times reports—after Nayar and Edwards had left and Spottiswood had called a meeting to discuss the on-set turmoil.
In a statement to the Times Spottiswood said, “When it appeared the writers’ room was struggling to function as effectively as it should, I recognized that I needed to change how I was working... I voluntarily sought management training and leadership coaching.”
“I acknowledge that I can have a rhetorical, professorial tone in the room, and that can be perceived by some as condescending, and that I can be defensive in creative conversations and debates,” Spottiswood added. “I remain strongly committed to improving my communication style and skills, and to being a more inclusive leader—ensuring that writers and artists are not just heard, but feel listened to, respected, safe and valued.”
CBS declined The Daily Beast’s request for comment, deferring to Warner Bros. for a statement.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that CBS appointed Harris-Lawrence as showrunner, when in fact it was Warner Bros, and misstated the title of David Makes Man.