I regret to inform you that we have reached the cap of new television shows. I suspected we were nearing the end with Young Sheldon. We got closer to the edge with Sexy Beasts, the Netflix dating show in which people are dressed as creatures like a praying mantis or a human-dolphin hybrid. But now, we are officially plummeting into the abyss with CBS’s latest show: The Activist, a reality competition in which activists compete for the chance to win … activism?
According to Deadline, the five-week reality series was set to be hosted by Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Usher, and Julianne Hough, the first three people who come to mind when I hear the word activism. The show originally featured “six inspiring activists” working alongside “three high-profile public figures” to bring “meaningful change” in the realms of health, education, and the environment. Lotta buzzwords, very little explanation of what the show would even be. Please just read this paragraph from Deadline that attempted to give details:
Activists go head-to-head in challenges to promote their causes, with their success measured via online engagement, social metrics, and hosts’ input. The three teams have one ultimate goal: to create impactful movements that amplify their message, drive action, and advance them to the G20 Summit in Rome, Italy. There, they will meet with world leaders in the hope of securing funding and awareness for their causes. The team that receives the largest commitment is celebrated as the overall winner at the finale, which will also feature musical performances by some of the world’s most passionate artists.
At least, that was the premise of the show until CBS heard the onslaught of criticism about a show appearing to gamify societal change. Now, the network would like to say, “Haha, just kidding!” In a new statement, CBS and its production partners announced that The Activist would be restructured from a reality show competition into a “primetime documentary special.” Here’s CBS’s oopsy-daisy statement in full:
“The Activist was designed to show a wide audience the passion, long hours, and ingenuity that activists put into changing the world, hopefully inspiring others to do the same. However, it has become apparent the format of the show as announced distracts from the vital work these incredible activists do in their communities every day.”
Global Citizen, an advocacy organization that partnered with CBS for the series, gave a much blunter apology saying, “Global activism centers on collaboration and cooperation, not competition. We apologize to the activists, hosts, and the larger activist community — we got it wrong.” Unfortunately for the producers and everyone else involved, the series in its original competition format had already been filmed. (Someone leak the footage, please!) So, this new and improved documentary version of The Activist will be completely reshot. The difference a week can make!
The aforementioned change in structure comes after understandable backlash against both the show as a whole and the choice of co-hosts. Specifically, there has been criticism of Hough’s role in a show about activism after she wore blackface as part of her 2013 Halloween costume. She has apologized for the costume at least twice — once in 2013 and again in 2015. This week, Hough issued a new statement addressing the concerns about her involvement in the show. “The last few days have been a demonstration of real-time activism,” she wrote in a multi-panel Instagram post on September 14.
To her credit, the statement mostly recaps the (widely negative) response to the show and says she is “deeply listening.” Hough also shared the reason she signed on to the show in the first place — “I was really excited to be a part of something that highlights and is centered around sharing activists’ work on a larger platform” — adding that she has shared the public concerns with “the powers that be.” She ended her post by saying she will “continue to listen, unlearn, [and] learn.”
With the show’s restructuring, it’s unclear how she and her fellow celebrity co-hosts will be involved — if they are involved at all. Regardless, I stand by my initial point: This is all evidence of the fact that there is too much television.
This post has been updated.