It was August when Glenn Geller, CBS Entertainment president, was under heavy attack by Television Critics Association reporters for the network’s substandard effort to show diversity in its casts and producer ranks. “We need to do better,” he conceded.
When TCA met again in January, Geller did not conduct an executive session. But CBS did talk up its new legal drama Doubt, which not only features a pair of African-American actors in key roles, but a transgender woman playing a transgender woman—a notable development for broadcast TV. LaverneCox, who made her name on Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black, plays lawyer Cameron Wirth. While series such as Amazon’s Transparent have built major story lines around a transitioning character, Doubt represents the next phase of trans characters, where their sexuality is less of an issue than workplace dilemmas or relationship dramas.
“We wanted to create a character who’s transgender, but it wasn’t about their transition,” said cocreator Joan Rater. “[Cameron is] brilliant and Ivy League-educated and just happens to be transgender.”
Rater and cocreator/husband Tony Phelan are former exec producers on Grey’s Anatomy. At one point in the Doubt pilot, a disturbed client asks if Cameron is a man. Cox’s character calmly responds that she used to be one. The issue is barely touched upon thereafter.
Geller says CBS did not set out to get a trans character into a show. “Until we read the script, and until that point in it, we had no idea,” Geller told B&C.
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It is a personal issue for Phelan and Rater, whose son Tom, a cast member on Freeform’s The Fosters, is transgender. The show has a trans writer on staff, which Phelan said, “allows us to tell the story of people who are trans that America hasn’t necessarily seen before.”
Doubt debuts Feb. 15 and boasts a potent cast. Elliot Gould plays the deeply idealistic boss of the law firm. Cox, Katherine Heigl (Grey’s Anatomy) and Dulé Hill (Psych) play attorneys. While many of television’s legal dramas focus on prosecutors, Hill says he was enticed by the idea of playing a defender. “So much of it is about finger-pointing, catching the bad guy,” he said. “Doubt is about the other side of the equation.”
The show is also more serialized than a typical legal drama—or a typical CBS drama, for that matter. Rater says season one of This American Life podcast Serial, about Adnan Syed’s fight for justice following a murder conviction, was a factor in creating Doubt. “We’re law junkies,” she said.
Cameron Wirth actually isn’t the first trans character on CBS. In 2015, a character on daytime series The Bold and the Beautiful revealed to her fiancé that she used to be a man. CBS Entertainment has much more work to do to diversify what’s on its air, but Geller is pleased to share diverse Doubt with the viewing public. “I love that now we have one in primetime too,” he said.