CBS revamps ‘The Activist’ from competitive series to documentary special amid backlash

“The push for global change is not a competition and requires a global effort,” said one of its producers.

CBS revamps ‘The Activist’ from competitive series to documentary special amid backlash
(Image: AP)

Following a firestorm of disapproval online, CBS’ “The Activist,” which was supposed to be a five-episode competition series, will be reformatted into a one-time documentary special instead.

The would-be reality show had previously planned to feature six purposeful activists who would go head-to-head in challenges to promote their causes. Their progress would be measured through online engagement, social metrics, and guidance from hosts UsherPriyanka Chopra, and Julianne Hough.

The supposed winner would then earn admission into the G20 Summit in Rome, Italy, where they will meet with world leaders and strive to secure funding for their causes.

Special media users and opinion writers specifically lambasted the competitive premise of the program. What was originally intended as a “ground-breaking” that would “inspire real change” has instead been likened to The Hunger Games or Black Mirror in that it seems like a “disconnected,” “dystopian,” and “dehumanizing” contest. They also claim that the show “makes light of the hard work” that actual activists struggle to achieve on the ground.

Actress Jameela Jamil also critiqued the original format. She believed that its producers could have just donated the money it would pay talent “directly to activist causes” instead of “turning activism into a game.”

As a response to the recoil, CBS and producing partners Global Citizen and Live Nation released a joint statement announcing a dramatic redesign and explaining why they had to pivot the show’s premise.

 “‘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,” the statement read. “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.”

“The push for global change is not a competition and requires a global effort.”

In a separate statement by Global Citizen, the worldwide movement apologized and explained why they had to pivot the show’s premise.

“Global activism centers on collaboration and cooperation, not competition. We apologize to the activists, hosts, and the larger activist community – we got it wrong,” wrote Global Citizen.

Celebrity and known philanthropist Priyanka Chopra also spoke out about the show and her planned role as host and judge. In a note posted on her social media, Chopra assured that all of the critical voices towards the show have been “heard.”

“The show got it wrong, and I’m sorry that my participation in it disappointed many of you,” wrote Chopra. “The intention was always to bring attention to the people behind the ideas and highlight the actions and impact of the causes they support tirelessly.”

“I’m proud to collaborate with partners who have their ear to the ground and know when it’s time to hit pause and re-evaluate.”

Former Dancing with the Stars judge Julianne Hough also expressed her thoughts on the matter. She also confronted comments about her being unfit to be a judge given her history of wearing blackface. 

“I do not claim to be an activist and wholeheartedly agree that the judging aspect of the show missed the mark and that I am not qualified to act as a judge,” Hough wrote on Instagram. “I also understand that there is no response that I could share that would make everyone happy. However, I want you to know that this is a conversation and I’m still listening.”

The Activist premieres as a TV documentary special on CBS this October 22.


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