|Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park|
Don't get me wrong here, it seems like a crap deal, and I agree with the many commenters on my Twitter feed who are outraged over this. Dae Kim and Park have been series regulars as long as Scott Caan and Alex O'Loughlin, and certainly in the case of O'Loughlin, Dae Kim at least has more fame outside of this show than he does. The two actors are used in promotional materials just as often as the two other actors who were getting paid more, they are featured in commercials for the show as much as they were, and based on readings of the show, are integral to the plot just as frequently.
Additionally, from a PR standpoint this is a nightmare-a show that is centered in Hawaii, the state with the most Asian-Americans per capita, has just let go the two biggest Asian-American stars on the network. Particularly for CBS this is not an attractive picture, as the network has struggled in ways that other broadcast networks have not with casting diverse leads; losing two of your biggest persons of color stars because you won't pay them as much as the white actors, is repugnant and sort of makes you wonder what Les Moonves was thinking; the bad press and potential boycotts is a risky game to play for what is, at the end of the day, not a huge part of CBS's bottom line.
But the problem here is, and the problem that centers around a lot of outrage culture or being upset about injustice-what will audiences actually do about it? The reality is that frequently major stars leave shows and the ratings are fine afterwards. Looking at actors from Shelley Long to Christopher Meloni to Sandra Oh to Chad Michael Murray, contract disputes oftentimes lead to major actors walking and trying some other show or film, but that doesn't necessarily mean that people stop watching or the show stops being profitable. Certainly it can lead to such a situation (cases like Mischa Barton or Zach Braff leaving their show and the series couldn't survive without them, getting cancelled soon after, definitely exist), but just as often a show keeps going after getting rid of a character, if not more so in an era where we're used to series regulars dying out-of-the-blue.
The reality is that an era of streaming, Netflix, and (most importantly for network television) DVR, we don't quit shows like we used to do. We might prolong our enjoyment, letting several episodes stack up on occasion, but generally people are too lazy to stop watching. Particularly when it comes to a procedural, where thanks to Law & Order people have gotten used to a revolving door of cast members, it's questionable whether this will have a huge impact on CBS overall numbers. It could affect them (which is why I said I was surprised Moonves took the risk), but it's just as possible that ratings remain the same here. Most of the people I saw outraged over this on Twitter were not people who actually watch the show...I suspect most of them don't watch anything on CBS based on their regular comments. Other than The Big Bang Theory, which I watch out of habit (like I said-people being lazy with their DVR's), I don't ever watch it anymore either, and unless I can figure out how to view the new Star Trek on the channel, I don't have plans to do so in the future. I admittedly watch their shows on The CW, but have no plans of giving up Jane the Virgin or Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (weirdly the CW has done much better on diversity than its parent network).
As a result, my threats as a consumer are hard to take seriously. Will this be the rare case where a show sinks because of a cast member leaving the series? Possibly. But it's just as likely that this is all a case of a controversy that will disappear in a few weeks and fans will stick with the series. Frequently it feels like we're in a world where the morally wrong thing to do goes unpunished because of apathy from consumers. The cynic in me suspects this might be the case here.