Online Backlash Inspired Producers of 'The Activist' to Turn the Competition Show Into a Documentary

Kori Williams - Author

Sep. 16 2021, Published 1:05 p.m. ET

Usher, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Julianne Hough
Source: Getty Images

Quick question: Does everything need to be a competition show? Because at this point, it seems like it. Things like dating, cooking, pretty much being a ninja, and more have all been made into wildly successful competition TV shows. But now, that has extended to the world of activism and wanting to make a difference.

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The Activist is a TV show that was originally going to be a competition series airing on CBS. But it caused so much controversy online that the entire format of the show has now changed. Here's what we know about the backlash it received and how things will be different moving forward.

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What is 'The Activist' TV show controversy?

In Sept. 2021, a competition show called The Activist was announced. Hosted by Usher, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, and Julianne Hough, the show was going to be about competitors facing off in challenges that promote the causes they care about. They were going to have to fight to win the opportunity to attend the G20 Summit in Rome, Italy. There, they were going to be able to meet world leaders and discuss their ideas with changemakers.

On the show, the activists' "success" was going to be measured by things like social media metrics, online engagement, and commentary from the hosts, according to Deadline. The Activist is even produced by Global Citizen, a movement that is aiming to end "extreme poverty" by 2030.

Although The Activist has a positive message behind it, the show got plenty of backlash online. Many people were against the idea, and now the premise of the show is changing.

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For starters, people don't believe that activism should be a competition. Instead, all who work to make positive change in the world should be celebrated. When she learned about the show, actress Jameela Jamil spoke out on Twitter saying, "Couldn’t they just give the money it’s going to take to pay this unbelievably expensive talent and make this show, directly to activist causes? Rather than turning activism into a game and then giving a fraction of the much-needed money away in a 'prize'?"

Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas
Source: Getty Images
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In another tweet, someone pointed out that this show turns activism into a game show, and someone else responded saying that this would "belittle and discredit 'true activism.'" Needless to say, the announcement for the show did not go over well. Just a few days later, it was announced that the competition model was scrapped in favor of something else.

'The Activist' will now be a documentary.

According to Variety, The Activist will no longer be a competition show thanks to the "firestorm of criticism" it received online. Instead, it will be reformated into a documentary series. "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," said a joint statement from CBS and producing partners Global Citizen and Live Nation.

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"The push for global change is not a competition and requires a global effort," the statement continued. In this new format, the show will focus on the activists themselves.

"It will showcase the tireless work of six activists and the impact they have advocating for causes they deeply believe in," the statement says. "Each activist will be awarded a cash grant for the organization of their choice, as was planned for the original show."

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When will 'The Activist' be released?

Originally, The Activist was set to premiere on CBS on Oct. 22, 2021. But now that it's receiving this huge overhaul, there has been no new release date given. Considering how soon the show was originally supposed to air, it's likely that some of the competition show had already been filmed.

On Sept. 15, 2021, Julianne Hough posted a statement on her Instagram addressing the controversy. She wrote that she hears what people are saying about the show, including that it's "tone-deaf" and that the hosts aren't qualified to host a show about this topic. People also brought up that back in 2013, she wore blackface as part of a Halloween costume.

Usher and Priyanka have yet to speak out.

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