TCA Press Tour: CBS Executive Session

Nina Tassler, President of CBS Entertainment, favored us with her presence this morning at the TCA tour, sitting down for an executive session which provided us with the following quotes and tidbits:

* Regarding the decision to place the new reality series “Undercover Boss” in the plum spot following the Super Bowl, she said that it was a combination of good timing and a good series. “We’re very high on the show, but we spent a lot of time talking about what the right strategy would be,” she said. “We’ve seen five or six episodes of ‘Undercover Boss’ by now, and there is a tone and a quality to the show that we felt was a great fit after the Super Bowl. It is aspirational. It is a feel-good program.
Everybody who is sitting and watching the Super Bowl, be you 8 or 80, can stay right there and enjoy the program. I think 15 years ago, that spot was used to launch new programming. Obviously, in the last 10, 15 years it’s been used more as a platform to get greater exposure for existing shows. But we thought, ‘You know what? We have a great project, we’re very high on it, and we think we’re going to launch another big-branded reality show.'”

* Obviously, NBC’s continued fall from grace via the great failure that was “The Jay Leno Show” was a topic of conversation that everyone wanted Tassler to weigh in on. “Through it all, we have to realize that ABC, CBS and FOX…we’ve all fared, I think, very well during this experimental phase for NBC,” she said. “But if we can harken back to when there was that grand proclamation about 8 o’clock at NBC…? Remember? We all wrote about that: 8 o’clock was over at NBC. They were going to have a whole different strategy developing for 8 o’clock. And then along came 10 o’clock, and they were going to have a whole different strategy for 10 o’clock. You know, I think ultimately, there is no substitute for developing great shows, working with great talent, and getting your program on the air.”

“The unfortunate thing is that our creative community was to some degree somewhat bruised by this,” she continued. “I think that the talent as this was taking place, a lot of people were put out of work. A lot of people really saw this as having a pretty negative impact on our business. But I think right now for us, it just allowed us to get a bigger piece of the ad revenue pie at 10 o’clock, and again, what I have the most trouble with is for their company, their decision to do what they did, to sort of turn that and say that his is a reflection on the whole network business, I think is misguided. Our business is thriving right now. We are enjoying success with new hit shows, as is ABC, as is FOX. So I think at the end of the day, it was an experiment that obviously did not work, but for us, like I said, there’s no substitute for just developing and producing and launching great shows.”

There’s certainly no question that a couple of CBS earned some additional success from viewers’ indifference to “The Jay Leno Show.” As Tassler observed, “We moved ‘The Mentalist’ to 10 o’clock on Thursday night and launched ‘The Good Wife,’ so 10 o’clock has been good business for us.”

“So, Bill, did you hear CBS canceled my show again? Goddammit!”

* The same, however, cannot be said for at least one of the network’s 9 PM shows, “Three Rivers,” which Tassler confirmed has been canceled, despite liberal use of the word “hiatus” in most statements. “We’ve all known each other long enough to say when something’s on hiatus, it’s code for something else,” she said, earning a huge laugh.

She sobered the room a bit, however, with her next statement. “The reality is we are very proud of that show, and it’s not too often that you get mail that lets you know as a network that eight lives were saved as a result of the organ donation that people became aware of because of that show,” she said. “At the end of the day, knowing the fact that that show was on the air and had that kind of impact is pretty extraordinary.”

* Regarding the decision to pit “Survivor: All Stars” against the Olympics, Tassler responded, “We are so high on this season of ‘Survivor’ that we think it’s certainly going to continue to do well in its time period. I think it’s sort of a mixed bag between new shows and repeats, but our strategy is to continue putting the shows out there, letting the fans come to the shows as they see fit, and whoever is going to watch the Olympics is going to watch them anyway. They’re also different audience bases. So I think we’ll be fine.”

* When asked about Charlie Sheen’s recent arrest and domestic abuse charges, Tassler indicated that it had not resulted in any problems at the network or on the show, describing things as “business as usual.” “Right now we’re being very sensitive to the fact that this is a very personal and very private matter for Charlie,” she said. “There’s been no impact on the network right now. The show is proceeding along its regular project schedule and taped a show last night, so right now there’s been no impact. I really have to credit Chuck (Lorre); he runs a wonderful show.”

* Tassler concedes that “American Idol” remains in her mind “still the Death Star,” but that the network’s counter-programming of “NCIS” will stay the same. “‘NCIS’ does well against it,” she said, “but (‘American Idol’) is still a force to be reckoned with.”

* Fans of the network’s Canadian imports, “Flashpoint” and “The Bridge,” will be pleased to know that CBS is sitting on 18 and 13 episodes of those series, respectively. They will be less pleased, however, to learn that it’s not yet confirmed when we’ll actually see any of them. “We had a high-class problem this season: we had a terrific fall launch, we had a lot of shows that we’re working, so we had more content than we had real estate for,” she admitted. “So we’ll wait and see what happens. We’ve got both shows, and obviously, they’ll make it to air at some point, but right now, the schedule is stable and doing well. Like I said, it’s a high-class problem.”

* Despite both being the work of producer Jerry Bruckheimer, there are no current plans for the network’s new drama, “Miami Medical,” to cross over with “CSI: Miami.”

* Insofar as the future of “The Amazing Race” goes, Tassler said that it will last for as long as it continues to perform. “We had a great season this year, in particular,” she said. “Bertram (Van Munster) is a magician, and when he goes out in the field and when they’re investigating and designing new routes…I mean, they’re very, very smart about the way they select their routes and are very plugged in as far as the situations and countries around the world. They have never been a complacent production. They are always looking for new challenges. And the beauty of having a reality show like ‘Race,’ like ‘Survivor,’ like ‘Big Brother,’ these brands that continue to succeed, is because each cycle, when you go into the casting process, you really get an opportunity to almost reinvent yourself. So the combination of great casting, with Bertram finding wonderful, unique and unusual routes, I think just contributes to the longevity of the show.”

* “Let’s Make a Deal” is doing “comparatively better” than “Guiding Light” had been doing in that timeslot. “What’s really interesting is I think we’re looking at daytime through a whole new prism,” said Tassler. “We are looking at it perhaps as it once was, which was a pretty diverse daypart where you had talk, you had soap, you had game. And then as we look ahead, we are considering that, as well. ‘Price is Right’ is hitting all-time highs. It’s doing really well. ‘The Bold and the Beautiful’ and ‘The Young and the Restless’ are doing well. ‘Deal’ is doing well. So for us, it is looking at it with a fresh, new perspective and saying we have an opportunity to mix things up a bit, which is what we are doing.”

“I tell ya, Billy, they just don’t get me!”

* Tassler admitted with a smile that she doesn’t yet have a date for when “CSI” might finally adjust to William Petersen’s loss and find Laurence Fishburne’s character, but she acknowledged that they’re doing better and that Fishburne himself is coming along, too. “I think you can’t deny that Fishburne is a powerful actor and a force to be reckoned with,” she said. “What has happened last season to this season, he certainly has assimilated more into the ensemble. Audiences have found that as he’s more comfortable with his team, the team is more comfortable with him. And you are really now able to build greater intimacy with the relationships. And I think, yes, we have changed his wardrobe, which does reflect, to some degree, how comfortable he is now with the team and with the ensemble. But from all of the fans and our research entertainment panel, I mean, clearly people feel that he has arrived. He’s settled. He’s part of the team, and people are now able to see him actually have more humor. And I think as you look forward to the episodes that are coming up the second half of the season on ‘CSI,’ you’re going to find more irreverence. You’re going to find those sort of more iconic stories that we’ve done in the past that just kind of turn the whole Vegas experience on its ear.”

* Both “Numb3rs” and “Medium” remain in contention for pick-up next year, the former being somewhat of a surprise, given that it seemed to be a veritable certainty that it would be its final season, but Tassler explained, “We just had to cut back on the number of episodes because we had to make way to get ‘Miami Medical’ on the air.”

  

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