'Living Biblically': Camryn Manheim answers whitewashing criticism of new CBS sitcom

Will Lerner
Producer, Yahoo Entertainment

When Living Biblically premieres Monday, audiences will be introduced to the character of Ms. Meadows, played by Camryn Manheim of The Practice fame. But the character she’ll play is vastly different from how it was conceived. Last year, Uproxx reported that series creator Patrick Walsh envisioned the role as “Mr. Meadows,” a “45, African-American, no-nonsense boss,” according to the initial script. The part was retooled when Manheim came onboard.

“When I was told that Living Biblically was casting, there was an interest in me to play the rabbi,” the Emmy and Golden Globe winner told Yahoo Entertainment when she stopped by our studios. “And so that was the first discussion [I had] about it. I was obviously very interested in doing that, a female rabbi — I thought that was supercool. And then they decided they wanted to go a little bit more traditional with David Krumholtz, which is a great idea, because he’s fantastic.

The supporting players of Living Biblically, left to right, Sara Gilbert as Cheryl, Camryn Manheim as Ms. Meadows, and Tony Rock as Vince (Photo: Sonja Flemming/CBS)

“And then there was another role, who was the boss,” Manheim said. “It was ‘Mr. Meadows’ at first. And I think it was originally for an African-American man. I think they kind of had their hearts set on me being in the show, and since I wasn’t going to play the rabbi, they thought, ‘Oh, could this work?’

“I remember when my agent said there might be some controversy surrounding this, because it was originally written as an African-American role and now it’s being taken by a Caucasian woman that you might hear about some flak. And I said, ‘Well, there’s all kind of diversity, right?’ I’m 56 years old, I’m an overweight woman, there’s ageism, I’m playing a lesbian. I think I’m bringing to the table some diversity too. I do think that I did bring something to the table that we don’t see all the time on television.”

Whitewashing of Hollywood productions has been increasingly condemned in recent months. CBS was accused of changing two parts in the science-fiction pilot Mission Control, casting white actors in parts that were intended to be minority characters.

As for Manheim’s casting, CBS responded last year with a statement defending the show’s diversity.

Living Biblically is an inclusive pilot in which four of the six stars are diverse or female. The characters in the pilot also represent various genders, ethnicities, and religions.”

Manheim agrees. “CBS realized, ‘We want to make sure that we are equal opportunists across the board.’ We have Tony Rock, we hired [Carla Renata]. … We started to populate our show so that we were representing America. … I feel that CBS answered that call immediately,” she said. “I’m aware that that was talked about and I just want to say I think we’ve done a great job of making it equitable.”

How Living Biblically will approach homosexuality:

Read more from Yahoo Entertainment: