Nina Tassler talks cop dramas, Leno's move

CBS is embracing its inner criminal.

Criticized for its surplus of crime dramas, CBS nonetheless ended the fall as TV’s most-watched network — and Eye entertainment prexy Nina Tassler told reporters Wednesday that she’s done making apologies.

“The No. 1 new show of the season, ‘The Mentalist,’ is a crime drama,” Tassler said at CBS’ portion of the TV Critics Assn. press tour at the Universal Hilton. “Seven of the top 15 shows are crime dramas. Six of our procedurals have increased viewership in the time period over last season. I’m not concerned about how many crime dramas we have as long as they’re distinct, well crafted and resonate with our audience.”

With those figures in mind, Tassler said she hoped to finally put to rest the conventional wisdom that CBS was crippled by its over-reliance on crime dramas. The Eye is nonetheless still developing noncrime shows as well, she added.

Tassler was also eager to counter NBC’s assertions that the decision to strip Jay Leno’s new show at 10 p.m. was a function of primetime’s ill health.

“It was certainly the right move for their network,” Tassler said, “but it doesn’t and shouldn’t suggest that the current network system doesn’t work… Advertisers are still putting dollars into TV, even in recession, because they say it’s still the most efficient buy to reach a mass audience. (And) CBS grew its audience this year.”

Tassler said CBS’ first reaction to NBC’s Leno announcement was “thank you.”

“Our 10 o’clock dramas do extremely well,” she said. “It’s a coveted time period. The creative community was, quite frankly, shocked when they first heard about it. You have so many top-tier talent that vie for that time period every year.”

Tassler also said that NBC’s 10 p.m. move wouldn’t alter CBS’ scheduling plans.

“Why should one network’s failure in development redirect an entire schedule strategy?” Tassler said. “It was really important that we continue to develop for 10 o’clock.”

Addressing the weak economy, Tassler said the network — which pinkslipped several execs last month — has been looking at ways to cut costs in other arenas, although, she said, “we’ve always been very frugal as to the way we manage our productions.”

These days, Tassler said, the traditional formula for meeting actor and writer salary quotes has been dramatically reined in.

“When making deals you can be really smart in the way you construct those deals,” she said. “There’s a shift in the way deals are being brokered in town, and everybody’s on board. People are realizing they have to adjust.”

The Eye is expected to make the same number of pilots, however.

Also at the CBS tour:

  • Tassler confirmed that the net is close to making a deal with performer John Mayer to star in a music/variety/sketch pilot that could turn into a series or a series of specials. Grammys producer Ken Ehrlich is aboard to exec produce. (Tassler said she wasn’t discouraged by NBC’s recent Rosie O’Donnell variety show debacle.)

  • The Eye may pick up one more seg this season of “The Mentalist,” which will likely get its biggest rating of the season on Sunday night, behind the AFC Championship game.

  • “Swingtown” is officially dead. “We were proud of the execution,” Tassler said, before officially executing it.

  • A pilot for the “NCIS” spinoff is happening and will air as an episode of “NCIS.” Casting has already begun.

  • The prognosis isn’t good for newbies “Worst Week” and “Eleventh Hour,” but Tassler wasn’t ready to throw in the towel just yet.

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