Ed Martin Live from the 2012 Winter Television Critics Association Tour
CBS had been on the receiving end of much problematic buzz during the first week of the Winter 2012 Television Critics Association tour because it had revealed days ago that it was not going to present a session with its well-liked entertainment president Nina Tassler. But after days of protestations from TCA officers and members alike, the network yesterday included a session with Tassler after all.
Continuing the trend of disarming executive honesty that has characterized the broadcast portion of the tour, she began her session by offering a deeply personal explanation as to why she had initially not been included on CBS' schedule. Turns out it was her idea to change things up.
"[TCA] makes me a nervous wreck," Tassler admitted, surprising those of us who have always found her to be so comfortable on stage. "I know so many of you in this room, and we've had so many conversations over the eight, nine years we've been doing this. It's just [that TCA] is a forum that is challenging. That being said, we had an amazing year. You have the stats. They're really remarkable. We're incredibly proud. And I thought how we achieved that success isn't necessarily best expressed in this sort of warm and fuzzy room." Not surprisingly, that last comment sent a wave of laughter rippling through the room.
"I thought, maybe during the day we would have a chance to talk about the subtle nuances of what we do and how we do it and the strategies and the planning and the creative passion we bring to what we do every day and how fortunate we are to work with very gifted show-runners," Tassler continued as the laughter subsided. "So that really was the motive. And I swear to you, I'm the most respectful person in the world. It really wasn't a sign of disrespect. I have tremendous respect for everybody and the job that they do. It was really an attempt to get really quickly to the heart of our success, which is our shows and our stars and the writing and so on. I just wanted to explain that."
Tassler's humble bumble would have been the big story of CBS' day had an unexpectedly tense session with the producer and stars of the network's new sitcom smash 2 Broke Girls not boiled over about an hour later. Its defensive show-runner Michael Patrick King clashed with determined critics hung up on the show's racial stereotypes and raunchy humor, resulting in one of the most combustible sessions in many a TCA tour.
Several critics were perturbed about the show's very diverse supporting characters, asserting that they are one-dimensional stereotypes that were not fully developed during the first half of the show's first season. King, clearly annoyed by this line of questioning, tried to explain that since the characters are seen for only a few minutes a week it takes time to fully explore who they are. "The characters are dimensional and they're seen in segments of 21 minutes, which limits the amount of dimension you can see," he said, tersely. "So I will call you in five years, and you'll have accrued enough time to figure out if these characters became fully fledged out." Snap!
Other reporters dared to ask about the show's signature adult humor (much of it about vaginas) and the appropriateness of including such content in an early evening time period.
"It's 8:30 on Monday on CBS in 2012," King proclaimed. "It's a very different world than 8:30 on Monday on CBS in 1994. I consider our jokes really 'classy dirty.' I think they're 'high lowbrow.' I think they're fun and sophisticated and naughty, and I think everybody likes a good naughty joke. [The show] is ballsy. It is right in your face and hopefully funny."
"Are there restrictions on things you can say?" one reporter wanted to know.
"CBS is very, very vigilant with us in terms of what they consider to be the line between funny and passable, in good taste, and what they think is too far, and we have a constant dialogue between each other as to where the edge is, and the edge is usually somewhere that has an understandable and smart punch line attached," said King, ending the exchange.
All controversies aside, CBS put together a very strong day that included stars and producers from Two and a Half Men, How I Met Your Mother, Mike & Molly, the aforementioned 2 Broke Girls and NCIS, along with previous participants from Undercover Boss, the new team from CBS This Morning (via satellite from New York) and the cast of its midseason sitcom Rob, about a lifelong bachelor who marries into a close Mexican-American family. The latter isn't a very good show, but CBS went all out to promote it anyway, parking a special Rob-themed food truck out in front of the Langham Huntington Hotel and handing out bottles of water adorned with miniature Rob ponchos. Had I planned CBS' day I might have arranged to serve 2 Broke Girls cupcakes as the official afternoon snack, but given how things had gone earlier in the day it was probably better than they went with churros instead.