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.”

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CBS: What’s New for Fall 2009

Accidentally On Purpose (Mon., Sept. 21 @ 8:30 PM, CBS)

The competition: “Dancing with the Stars” (ABC) “Heroes” (NBC), “House” (Fox), “One Tree Hill” (The CW)

Starring: Jenna Elfman, Grant Show, Jon Foster, Ashley Jensen, Lennon Parham, Nicolas Wright
Producers: Gail Berman (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel”), Gene Stein (“Less Than Perfect”), and Claudia Lonow (“The War at Home”)
Network’s Description: Billie is a single woman who finds herself “accidentally” pregnant after a one-night stand with a much younger guy, and decides to keep the baby… and the guy. A newspaper film critic, Billie is barely surviving a humiliating breakup with her charming boss, James, who’s still trying to resume their relationship. Suddenly expecting a child with her “boy toy,” Zack, Billie and Zack make an arrangement: to live together platonically. Billie’s party girl best friend Olivia, and Abby, her conventional, younger married sister, eagerly look forward to the new addition and offer their own brands of advice and encouragement. But when Zack and his freeloading friends, including Davis, start to turn her place into a frat house, Billie isn’t sure if she’s living with a boyfriend, a roommate, or if she just has another child to raise.
The Buzz: Elfman’s been trying to mount her post-“Dharma and Greg” comeback for some time now (2006’s “Courting Alex” only lasted 13 episodes), but CBS’s decision to place the comedy in the midst of its Monday night line-up – and between “How I Met Your Mother” and “Two and a Half Men,” no less – shows their confidence in it. Or is that desperation?
Pilot Highlight: Billie’s walk of shame after what, at the time, appears to be a one-night stand.
Bottom Line: The young man / older woman dynamic obviously has potential for comedy, but this is a painfully pedestrian affair, one which feels like it never would’ve been made if Elfman hadn’t been attached.

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TCA Tour: “Three Rivers” set visit

Hey, everybody, Alex O’Loughlin’s back!

Oh, how I’ve missed Alex O’Loughlin. I can’t even begin to tell you how much abuse I had to deal with during his days on “Moonlight,” all because I thought the pilot for that series was just okay. My dissenting opinions immediately made my article “B.S.,” according to some readers, and I was subsequently forced to endure all manner of commentaries about how gorgeous O’Loughlin was, even though I kept assuring them that I’d probably be more interested in revisiting the series if they’d be willing to praise other aspects of the show that didn’t involve his hotness quotient. The irony…? When I reported how, after the show was canceled, CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler admitted that “the response to ‘Moonlight’ was actually more actor-centric,” I was buried in responses from readers who seemed shocked and offended that she would say something so patently ridiculous.

Well, for what it’s worth, Tassler did at least want to keep O’Loughlin within the CBS family, and she’s gotten her wish by handing him a plum part in the network’s new medical drama, “Three Rivers” (yes, it takes place in Pittsburgh), where he’ll be working within an ensemble which includes Katherine Moennig (“The L Word”), Daniel Henney (“X-Men Origins: Wolverine”), Justina Machado (“Six Feet Under”), Christopher J. Hanke, and…Alfre Woodard?

Yep: Ms. Woodard came aboard the series mere days ago, so recently that, when O’Loughlin responded to his first question in the on-set press conference for the TCA members, she did a double-take.

“Let me just say how freaked I am to hear you talk like an Aussie,” she said. “I’m, like, ‘What is he doing faking over here?’ He’s such a believable Pittsburgh boy!”

If you haven’t heard about “Three Rivers” yet, it’s being described by the network as “a medical drama that goes inside the emotionally complex lives of organ donors, the recipients and the surgeons at the preeminent transplant hospital in the country where every moment counts.” We’re being forewarned, however, that “dealing with donor families in their darkest hour and managing the fears and concerns of apprehensive recipients takes much more than just a sharp scalpel.” Pardon me for a moment while I groan at that line, but kudos must go to the series for taking their subject seriously enough to work directly with the organization Donate Life, a national movement to inspire Americans to register as an organ-and-tissue donor.

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CBS: The Fall Schedule

Well, I know at least one person who is beside herself about the news that Alex O’Loughlin is back on the airwaves, but I’m obviously happiest to get the confirmation that CBS did indeed decide to pick up “Medium” after NBC so rudely dumped it, giving it the most appropriate timeslot on their schedule (the post-“Ghost Whisperer” spot on Friday nights). Let’s look at the rest of the developments, shall we?

Monday

8:00 PM – How I Met Your Mother

8:30 PM – Accidentally On Purpose

A comedy starring Golden Globe Award winner Jenna Elfman as Billie, a single woman who finds herself “accidentally” pregnant after a one-night stand with a much younger guy, and decides to keep the baby… and the guy. A newspaper film critic, Billie is barely surviving a humiliating breakup with her charming boss, James (Grant Show), who’s still trying to resume their relationship. Suddenly expecting a child with her “boy toy,” Zack (Jon Foster), Billie and Zack make an arrangement: to live together platonically. Billie’s party girl best friend Olivia (Ashley Jensen), and Abby (Lennon Parham), her conventional, younger married sister, eagerly look forward to the new addition and offer their own brands of advice and encouragement. But when Zack and his freeloading friends, including Davis (Nicolas Wright), start to turn her place into a frat house, Billie isn’t sure if she’s living with a boyfriend, a roommate, or if she just has another child to raise.

9:00 PM – Two and a Half Men

9:30 PM – The Big Bang Theory

10:00 PM – CSI Miami

Tuesday

8:00 PM – NCIS

9:00 PM – NCIS: Los Angeles

A drama about the high stakes world of undercover surveillance at the Office of Special Projects (OSP), a division of NCIS that is charged with apprehending dangerous and elusive criminals that pose a threat to the nation’s security. By assuming false identities and utilizing the most advanced technology, this team of highly trained agents goes deep undercover, putting their lives on the line in the field to bring down their targets. Special Agent “G” Callen (Chris O’Donnell) is a chameleon who transforms himself into whomever he needs to be to infiltrate the criminal underworld. His partner is Special Agent Sam Hanna (LL Cool J), a former U.S. Navy SEAL who has seen action in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and a surveillance expert who uses state of the art monitoring equipment to look out for those in the field and feed them crucial information. Both Callen and Hanna report to Special Agent Lara Macy (Louise Lombard), the OSP team leader responsible for directing the operations and making life-or-death decisions. Assisting the team is Special Agent Kensi Lo (Daniela Ruah), the exceptionally bright daughter of a slain Marine who lives for the adrenalin rush that comes with undercover work, and Operational Psychologist Nate Getz (Peter Cambor), adept at getting into anybody’s head, profiling the target and monitoring agents’ states of mind before, during and after missions. Armed with the latest in high tech gear and sent regularly into life-threatening situations, this tight-knit team relies on each other to do what is necessary to protect national interests.

10:00 PM – The Good Wife

A drama starring Emmy Award winner Julianna Margulies as a wife and mother who must assume full responsibility for her family and re-enter the workforce after her husband’s very public sex and political corruption scandal lands him in jail. Pushing aside the betrayal and crushing public humiliation caused by her husband Peter (Chris Noth), Alicia Florrick (Margulies) starts over by pursuing her original career as a defense attorney. As a junior associate at a prestigious Chicago law firm, she joins her longtime friend, former law school classmate and firm partner Will Gardner (Josh Charles), who is interested to see how Alicia will perform after 13 years out of the courtroom. Alicia is grateful the firm’s top litigator, Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski), offers to mentor her but discovers the offer has conditions and realizes she’s going to need to succeed on her own merit. Alicia’s main competition among the firm’s 20-something new recruits is Cary (Matt Czuchry), a recent Harvard grad who is affable on the surface, but will use any means to ensure that he, not Alicia, secures the one full-time associate position that’s available. Fortunately, Alicia finds an ally in Kalinda (Archie Panjabi), the firm’s tough in-house investigator. Gaining confidence every day, Alicia transforms herself from embarrassed politician’s scorned wife to resilient career woman, especially for the sake of providing a stable home for her children, 14-year-old Zach (Graham Phillips) and 13-year-old Grace (Makenzie Vega). For the first time in years, Alicia trades in her identity as the “good wife” and takes charge of her own destiny.

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