The CBS network is not known for its diverse shows and casting and its All Rise courtroom drama, starring a Black woman lead Simone Missick was meant to be a step in the right direction.
However, five of the show’s seven writers decided to leave the popular show after butting heads with white showrunner, Greg Spottiswood, about his story treatment concerning issues of race and gender, The New York Times reports. Three of writers of color who left All Rise were the show’s highest-ranking writers.
They claimed Spottiswood often “ignored, rejected or resisted their attempts to have the characters and story lines accurately reflect the experiences of Black people and other people of color.”
The show, which reaches more than 5 million viewers per episode, was renewed for a second season back in May. It came after Missick earned an NAACP Image Award nod for her portrayal of Judge Lola Carmichael.
All Rise was inspired by Courtroom 302: A Year Behind the Scenes in An American Criminal Courthouse by Steve Bogira. The non-fiction book examines a felony courthouse in Chicago with various points of view, including the jury room, gallery and judge’s chambers. Spottiswood’s adaptation positioned a newly0appointed activist Black woman judge on the bench.
Writer-producer Shernold Edwards, a Black woman who has since left the show, told the Times that they worked hard to keep the show from being “racist and offensive” even when it came to Judge Carmichael’s dialogue.
After numerous complaints about Spottiswood’s approach to sensitive race, women-centered topics and his overall leadership skills, Warner Bros. launched an investigation and decided to assign him a corporate coach, who happened to be a Black woman. Warner Bros. said their inquiry didn’t reveal conduct that would get him removed from the show he created.
After Edwards and Indian-American writer Sunil Nayar left the show, Spottiswood addressed the tension in the writers room. “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 wrote in a statement. “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.”
But Shernold had other ideas about why Spottiswood was allowed to keep his coveted gig.
“He makes race palatable for a CBS audience and the CBS brass because he doesn’t know anything about it,” she said in the Times interview. “So there is this strange tone of nothing being said, but the visual representation is there. It’s safe and it’s empty. All the reality is absent.”
Warner Bros., who produces the series, told ESSENCE in a lengthy statement Thursday that after a review of Spottiswood’s behavior in the writer’s room, they attempted to make changes.
“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,” the statement began. “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. 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,” the statement continued. “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.”
Back in May, Missick praised the show’s cast and crew for making All Rise a success. “You can only be as strong as those around you and the people I work with are just phenomenal,” she told ESSENCE then.