CBS’ ‘The Activist’ Goes From Competition Show to Documentary After Harsh Blowback

The so-called ‘Oppression Olympics’ was originally poised to be a five-week competition show that pitted activists against activist in a battle for relevancy on social media.


Usher, Priyanka Chopra & Julianne Hough
Usher, Priyanka Chopra and Julianne Hough

Apparently, the road to reality TV hell is paved with good intentions.

CBS’ is retooling its progressive-minded reality series The Activist before it even airs. The five-week series that was poised to be a reality competition show is being creatively retooled as a docuseries. It is no longer scheduled to air as originally planned Oct. 22. A new date for what CBS, producers Global Citizen and Live Nation have dubbed in a joint statement Wednesday as a “documentary special.”

“[I]t 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,” CBS, Live Nation and Global Citizen said in a statement. (Read it in full, below.)

The move comes after massive social media and critical blowback to the series after it was announced earlier this month.

Even one of the show’s hosts, Dancing With the Stars veteran Julianne Hough, posted a statement agreeing with many of the show’s critics, noting “there is a feeling of insult, dehumanization, insensitivity and hurt that is being rightfully felt” and “I’m not qualified to act as judge.”

The series had six activists competing against each other to draw social media attention to various causes and are then were judged by celebrities Hough, Usher and Priyanka Chopra Jonas.

One environmental online campaign activist dubbed it “the worst idea for a TV show ever,” Forbes called it “performance activism personified,” and The Washington Post said it “sounds like the second circle of hell.”

Added Global Citizen in a statement of its own: “Global activism centers on collaboration and cooperation, not competition. We apologize to the activists, hosts, and the larger activist community — we got it wrong. 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.”

The series has not been a big deal for the network. The network also did not produce the series, but rather purchased the show wholesale from Global Citizen, Live Nation and Deviants Media. Global Citizen is the same organization that oversaw numerous specials that aired all over the world in response to COVID-19.

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