CBS out to get attention

Tassler trying to create buzz with pilots

CBS has the viewers. Now it wants some buzz.

CBS Entertainment prexy Nina Tassler told reporters Thursday that she deliberately set out this pilot season to find more attention-getters, developing outside of the network’s procedural-drama comfort zone.

That includes pilots like Hugh Jackman’s U.S. take on hit BBC skein “Viva Blackpool,” as well as the 1970s-set drama “Swingtown,” about wife-swapping and the sexual revolution, and the Stephen Dorff vehicle “Skip Tracer” (Daily Variety, Oct. 19).

“We’re trying to make a lot of noise this season and be successful in doing so,” Tassler said, speaking at CBS’ portion of the TV Critics Assn. press tour. “These are shows that we believe are going to get talked about … because we want to be talked about. I think it’s our time.”

Despite the net’s strong adults 18-49 showing and stable of primetime hits, most CBS fare doesn’t burn up the blogs, stir up the chat rooms or hog the magazine covers the way some of its rivals’ programs do.

Part of that is the lingering impact of the Eye’s heritage as an older-skewing net.

CBS programming operations senior exec VP Kelly Kahl, who shared the stage with Tassler and CBS Paramount Network TV Entertainment Group prexy Nancy Tellem, admitted the net was still fighting a perception that the Eye targeted the senior-citizen aud.

“A lot of people still write ‘the older-skewing CBS,’ and when we have a chance to point out that we’re No. 1 in 18-49, we’re going to take the opportunity to do it,” he said.

But the Eye’s meat-and-potatoes lineup just doesn’t trigger the same kind of coverage that sexy sudsers like “Desperate Housewives” might get. (To be fair, the net gets a lot more ink and attention than it did in the days of “Murder, She Wrote” and “Touched by an Angel.”)

“NCIS” “may not be sexy, but it performs unbelievably well,” Tellem said. ” ‘Jericho’ gets some buzz. But it’s a constant struggle, and we’re tenacious about it.”

Still, the net won’t be turning its back on less buzzed-about but solid performers like “NCIS” and “Criminal Minds.” Both skeins hold up decently against strong competish — including Fox’s unstoppable “American Idol.”

“They’re not ‘Idol’-proof, but maybe kind of ‘Idol’-resistant,” Kahl said. “Our shows hang in OK. The other guys kind of get vaporized.”

As for CBS’ performance, Tassler called the Eye’s story “pretty straightforward.” Tassler said she believes CBS will remain competitive in the adults 18-49 race in the coming weeks as the net airs the AFC championship, the Super Bowl and the Grammys.

The Eye will stick with most of its current sked; only one scripted skein, laffer “Rules of Engagement,” is on tap for midseason. (Other midseason entries were either shut down — “Waterfront” — or already aired — “3 Lbs.”)

In other news, Tassler shot down speculation that a fourth “CSI” could be in the cards. The execs also said they didn’t see a way to expose Showtime’s serial killer thriller “Dexter” to a wider audience on the Eye given its subject matter. Tassler said she was optimistic about recent changes on struggling laffer “The Class.”

Tellem, meanwhile, said CBS is beginning to put together a contingency plan in the event of a writers strike.

“I hope there’s no strike, and that we’ll get to the table,” she said. “But it would be foolish to say we were not planning.”

Eye execs are mulling their programming options, including movies, reality fare and newsmags.

“I feel comfortable we’d be able to fill our schedule with programming,” Tellem said.

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