A core member of “the big 3” in network television, CBS has long been a powerhouse in all aspects of television, especially when it comes to sitcoms. The network has gotten its best ratings from their comedy series, dating back to shows such as The Beverly Hillbillies and The Andy Griffith Show in the 1960s. Today, it continues to lead the big 3 in ratings of sitcom and comedic programs. So “what’s the problem?” you might ask. While CBS has the ratings, they lack the wit and innovation of their counterparts.
First and foremost, it is the last major network to rely on a laugh track to accompany its sitcoms. To be fair, both ABC and NBC have had sitcoms that do the same, even as recently as the early 2000s. The difference is, TV sitcoms have changed in the last ten years. For the most part, they are smarter, edgier, and bolder than many of their predecessors. CBS however has yet to join its competition in raising the bar and moving beyond techniques and technology of the days of yore, or at least the days of 1970. This choice in sitcom style has larger implications as to the type of shows the network produces and backs as “comedy”. Here in lies the real problem: its content. In recent years, CBS has been accused by viewers and critics as being sexist, homophobic, and even racist at times. What year is it? Oh right, it’s 2014. The fact that network television can still have the gall to makes jokes about any of these topics is absurd. I thought maybe using women as the butt of a joke was supposed to end when Tina Fey became the first female head writer of Saturday Night Live. I guess not.
Let’s start with How I Met Your Mother (and please do not ever compare it to Friends again). The character of Barney, played by openly homosexual actor Neil Patrick Harris, is perhaps the most popular on the show. Barney’s main role in the show is the token male stud that sees women as sexual objects for his conquest and is not only admired, but cherished by friends and audiences alike. How cute. Similar to Charlie Sheen’s character on yet another stereotypical CBS comedy, Two and a Half Men, Barney is considered a real man for his objectification of the females he encounters. In an article about sexism in modern network television, Melody G. writes of Barney, “[Barney] can be seen lying to women as a means of ensuring a sexual victory and rarely second-guessing [his] casual-sex lifestyle” (Melody G, 1). Her analysis of him is spot on. He is yet another pop culture figure that sees seducing and sleeping with women as a sport.
It is not just How I Met Your Mother that has stirred waves of controversy for CBS. Another powerhouse sitcom, The Big Bang Theory, is guilty as well, but of something other than just sexism (because it’s sexist too). Another sitcom revolving around a group of friends muddling through life together, TBBT is now notorious for its problematic and racist sentiments regarding the Indian character, Raj. While he is in a supporting role, and therefore often fodder for central characters like Sheldon and Leonard to make jokes, their jokes go beyond character or personality and cross over into race and ethnicity in a derogatory fashion. When speaking about his group of friends, Sheldon exclaims, “Koothrappali is the foreigner who tries to understand our culture and fails. No matter how successful you get, Indians are always the outsiders, the also-rans”. In another episode, Amy says to Penny, in a conversation about Catherine the Great, “She engaged in inter-species hanky panky and people still call her great. I’m sure your reputation can survive you shagging a little Indian boy” (“The Skank Reflex Analysis”, 2011). Two prime examples of problematic talk regarding the sole Indian character in the series. Not only is he explicitly labeled an outsider based solely off of his race, he is also degraded the equivalent of an animal when Amy suggests Penny having sex with him could tarnish her reputation similar to when Catherine the Great engaged in bestiality.
Last but certainly not least, there is the latest scandal with CBS sitcom Mike and Molly regarding transphobic language and plot lines. The show originally was slammed for repeatedly using the word “shemale” in its episodes, and most recently has been targeted again after an episode aired in which Mike and Molly meet a transgender individual. This character is constantly mis-gendered and asked about their genitals by the characters (“The First and Last Ride Along”, 2013). Classy. The LA times picked up on this story and revealed the CBS comedy has had representatives of GLAAD work with it to make it more “inclusive of LGBT people, or at least try not to overtly mock them” (Lang, 2). How is it acceptable that a show in this day and age needs to have an outside organization work with them to be more accepting of minorities, essentially asking them to not explicitly mock them?
Here’s the thing. I get it. Comedy is edgy and can push boundaries. The difference between CBS and other networks is their blatant disregard for equality and respect when it comes to any social group other than heterosexual, white males. Women, diverse races, and any individuals of non hetero-normative sexual orientations are nothing but a joke to these shows, and therefore to the network as a whole. Comedy has to be taken with a grain of salt, but I do not think there’s a grain of salt big enough to save these “sitcoms” and others like them on CBS from their immature and unintelligent content. Hey CBS, it’s 2014, put down your copy of “How to Be More like Chuck Lorre” and come join the rest of us in the real world. And Chuck Lorre, stay at CBS.
“5 Reasons Why Big Bang Theory is Racist”. MTV. September 11, 2013 http://mtv.in.com/blogs/love-relationships/urban-cupid/5-reasons-why-big-bang-theory-is-racist-50441978.html
“The Big Bang Theory”. IMDB. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0898266/?ref_=nv_sr_1
“CBS Corporation”. Britannica Online.
“CBS Takes Early Ratings Lead.” Wall Street Journal. September 28, 2010.
Grossman, Ben. “All Eyes on CBS”. Broadcasting & Cable Vol. 139 issue 8. February 23, 2009.
“How I Met Your Mother”. IMDB. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0460649/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1
Lang, Nico. “Don’t like transphoic ‘jokes’? Stop watching these CBS comedies”. Los Angeles Times. November 23, 2013. http://www.latimes.com/opinion/opinion-la/la-ol-cbs-comedies-transphobic-jokes-20131122,0,6987011.story#axzz2xNiBj7su
“Mike and Molly”. IMDB. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1608180/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1