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Crime still pays for Eye net sez Tassler

Net stands by drama-heavy sked

Critics may bemoan CBS’ hefty slate of crime dramas, but viewers still seem to have a hunger for procedurals, the net said Tuesday.

With three “CSI” editions, as well as the skeins “NCIS,” “Without a Trace,” “Numbers,” “Cold Case,” newcomers “Criminal Minds,” “Close to Home” and two hours of crime repeats on Saturday, Eye’s sked overflows with investigation dramas.

But entertainment topper Nina Tassler, kicking off CBS’ portion of the summer TV Critics Assn. press tour, said she didn’t believe the genre had been oversaturated.

“Our viewers haven’t told us that,” she said. “And especially with the way our numbers are performing … clearly we’ve struck a chord with our audience. I think we’ll just rely on our viewers to tell us when they’ve had enough.”

With CBS leader Leslie Moonves attending a Viacom meeting in New York, Tassler flew solo at the CBS executive session — marking the first time Moonves was absent from the press conference since joining the Eye in 1995. (Moonves will fly in for dinner with reporters tonight.)

With Moonves not onstage, questions focused on Tassler’s entertainment domain rather than outside fields, such as CBS News. And Tassler opted to pass on one of Moonves’ favorite sports: tweaking rival NBC exec Jeff Zucker.

“They do it so well, I would dare not challenge him,” Tassler said of the Moonves-Zucker ribbings. “They have a good relationship. It’s all in good fun.”

When asked whether Moonves — whose empire now includes CBS, Infinity Radio, Viacom Outdoor, Showtime and Simon & Schuster — had pulled back from programming duties, Tassler quipped, “Well, you know Leslie.

“He has obviously got a lot more responsibilities,” she said. “He’s got a bigger job. But he is as involved as ever. As he said before, CBS, that’s the crown jewel. He’s very involved in the day-to-day runnings of the company. When we need him, when I seek his counsel, he’s always there.”

Asked about CBS’ decision to air more popcorn thrillers like “Vampire Bats” in the Sunday night movie slot, Tassler said the net was looking to target younger viewers and counterprogram ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” juggernaut.

“The truth is these movies are fun,” she said.

Concurrently, Eye announced the early lineup for its fall movie slate, beginning with the Martha Stewart telepic “Martha Behind Bars” on Sept. 25, followed by “Mayday” (Oct. 2), “The Hunt for the BTK Strangler” (Oct. 9), “Time Bomb” (Oct. 16) and “Vampire Bats” (Oct. 30). Net previously announced that “Category 7: The End of the World” would air Nov. 6 and 13 (Daily Variety, June 27).

Net didn’t announce any season premiere dates.

As for CBS’ upcoming Pope John Paul II miniseries, Tassler said the net did feel some urgency to get its longform on before ABC’s rival project but that she felt good “about the quality and auspices of the script.”

“I actually just read the first night, and I said, ‘It’s like a papal page turner,’ ” she said. “It’s a very compelling and relevant story.”

Meanwhile, Tassler praised the network TV landscape, noting that broadcasters had “turned the corner this year.”

“We’ve reclaimed control of the water cooler from cable with shows like ‘CSI,’ ‘Survivor,’ ‘Lost,’ ‘Desperate Housewives’ and ‘American Idol,’ ” she said. “These are the shows that people are talking about at the water cooler, in the cul-de-sacs, at the coffee shops and in the chat rooms.”

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