From where I sit, executive sessions with CBS Entertainment president Nina Tassler have become one of the highlights of the Television Critics Association tours. At a time when other broadcast networks are questioning whether or not they want to subject their top executives to the "hardship" of TCA press conferences, Tassler has become so relaxed and conversational that she makes her twice-yearly TCA appearances look easy.
Tassler yesterday gave TCA what is likely to be the best quote it will receive from a network executive during the broadcast network portion of the tour. Asked for her reaction to Ben Silverman's impending departure over at NBC, Tassler smiled and replied, "I'm really just a D-girl, so I wouldn't comment on that." (She was referring to a remark Silverman made two years ago in a magazine interview in which he famously dismissed ABC's Steve McPherson and Fox' Kevin Reilly as "D-girls.") Tassler's quip generated a bigger laugh than any jokes made by Robin Williams and Joan Rivers during their appearances here last week. Tweets were flying before the laughter waned.
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Of course, the big reason Tassler was so upbeat and positive Monday is that, unlike most of its competitors, CBS has very little to be down about these days. She noted that the network last season was the only one to grow its audience "in every key ratings category." Further, CBS can boast a hit sophomore (The Big Bang Theory), a hit freshman (The Mentalist) and a sudden-hit veteran (NCIS). Also, even with its heavy schedule of scripted rerun programming, CBS is having a strong summer.
"We are once again the most-watched network this summer and the only one to grow our audience," Tassler cheered. The network has a couple of reality shows (Big Brother, the upcoming There Goes the Neighborhood) but is otherwise sticking with its stable of scripted series. "We're very selective about what we put on, and because we do well with scripted programming, why would we change?" she asked. "We're not going to fix what isn't broken."
Tassler is also very excited about CBS' expected dominance in the Monday-Friday 10 o'clock time period this fall opposite nightly telecasts of The Jay Leno Show on NBC. (So far there is absolutely no positive buzz for Leno among TCA members who have been living together and trading opinions on just about everything for the last week.) "Ten p.m. is a phenomenal time period for us," Tassler raved. "It has been great business for us. It generates billions of dollars for us in revenue between foreign sales and syndication. Three of our returning shows win that time period. It's only going to boost [Late Show with David Letterman], as well."
Asked if she is prepared for NBC's inevitable positive spin on Leno's performance at 10, Tassler let fly with another comment that made the room erupt with laughter. "First of all, whatever numbers, whatever ratings they get, they're going to declare a victory anyway, so it doesn't matter," she said with a smile.
It wasn't all puff balls and big love for Tassler. She was asked about CBS' involvement in the controversial decision to pre-tape certain awards before the Emmy telecast next month, which will greatly reduce the amount of time devoted to many categories. (The time shifting will be done in "a very respectful way" and "will have no impact on the integrity of the program," Tassler assured. "This is about creating and producing an exciting and entertaining program.") She was also questioned about the creative problems and ratings erosion suffered by CSI: Crime Scene Investigation last season. (Jorja Fox will return for five episodes as Sara Sidle, George Eads' Nick Stokes will have more screen time after being sidelined by Eads' bad back and Laurence Fishburne's Ray Langston will be "in more of a leadership capacity," Tassler assured us. She also said Langston would receive "a little bit of a wardrobe makeover.")
Tassler also fielded a complaint about the relative lack of intact nuclear families in broadcast programming. ("Family dynamics are all different shapes and sizes and we like to think that it's our responsibility to reflect that," she replied.)
If I'm not mistaken, the only series on CBS' schedule that will feature a family comprised of a mother, a father and their children will be Medium, and with its move from NBC to CBS, that will leave NBC with no series that features an intact family until Parenthood makes its debut. CBS had a session for Medium yesterday and even though the show is entering its sixth season there was considerable interest in it at TCA, in part because of its family component. There was also great interest in the Juliana Marguiles legal drama The Good Wife, widely regarded by TCA members as CBS' best new fall series.