CBS retooling 'The Activist' competition series after immense criticism, postpones release

The show was originally going to have celebrities Usher, Julianne Hough and Priyanka Chopra Jonas judge activists

CBS has made the decision to reformat its upcoming series "The Activist" after it received immense criticism for promoting performative activism and being tone-deaf. 

When it was announced roughly a week ago at CBS’ Television Critics Association summer press tour, the format of "The Activist" would see celebrity judges Usher, Julianne Hough and Priyanka Chopra Jonas preside over a competition in which six activists representing three causes — health, education and the environment, would try to raise as much awareness as possible for their cause.  

The first four episodes would show them doing that through various methods including a social media campaign. The fifth and final episode would see three of the six activists chosen to go to the G20 summit in Rome, according to Variety

However, the use of celebrities who are not activists as judges as well as both the social media and competition element of the show made many question the network's motivation and accuse CBS and its partner, Global Citizen, of using important causes for profit and viewership. 

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As a result, the two companies and Live Nation announced in a joint statement on Wednesday that the show will no longer be a competition series. Instead, it will be a one-time documentary special that still focuses on the same activists and causes, but elements like the competition and evaluation process have been abandoned. 

The cast of CBS' 'The Activist' may no longer be a part of the series after the network announced it is reformatting the show.

The cast of CBS' 'The Activist' may no longer be a part of the series after the network announced it is reformatting the show. (Getty Images Noel Vasquez / Contributor Rich Fury / Staff)

"‘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 reads. "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."

The organizations add that each activist will be awarded a cash grant for the organization of their choice "as was planned for the original show." 

The statement concludes: "Activists and community leaders around the world work every day, often without fanfare, to advance protections for people, communities, and our planet. We hope that by showcasing their work we will inspire more people to become more involved in addressing the world’s most pressing issues. We look forward to highlighting the mission and lives of each of these incredible people."

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In its own statement, Global Citizen added: "Global activism centers on collaboration and cooperation, not competition. We apologize to the activists, hosts, and the larger activist community — we got it wrong," the philanthropic org said. "It is our responsibility to use this platform in the most effective way to realize change and elevate the incredible activists dedicating their lives to progress all around the world."

In order to reformat the show, Variety notes that "The Activist" will need to undergo extensive reshoots, almost starting production from scratch. As a result, the series has been moved from its Oct. 22 premiere date to a new one that’s yet to be determined. 

It’s also unclear if the celebrity judges will still be a part of the project. The announcement came hours after Hough shared a lengthy statement on Instagram acknowledging the criticism she and the show were receiving.

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"The last few days have been a powerful demonstration of real-time activism," she began. "Thank you for using your voices, calling me in, your accountability, and your candor. I am deeply listening with an open heart and mind."

She went on to address the criticism directly, stopping short of announcing any changes that were clearly already in the works behind the scenes.  

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"I heard you say that there was hypocrisy in the show because at the root of activism is a fight against capitalism and the trauma that it causes so many people and that the show itself felt like a shiny capitalistic endeavor," she continued. "I also heard you say that trying to value one cause over another felt like the Oppression Olympics and totally missed and disrespected the many activists who have been killed, assaulted, and faced various abuses fighting for their causes."