CBS at TCA: Nina Tassler talking crime

Nina Nina Tassler took the stage at TCA Wednesday morning in a position of great strength.


The network’s entertainment topper arrived at the podium with the Eye seeing an increase in both total viewers and demos from a year ago. It’s an impressive feat in the continuing defragmentation of viewers moving away from broadcast to cable and the Internet.


“Network TV still works. Ad dollars are being put into network TV. It’s the most efficient buy for a mass audience,” Tassler said. “Twenty-eight million people watched the Olympics and 30 million watched ‘American Idol’ last night. You don’t see these numbers on cable or any other medium. Good content and storytelling make great business.”


Network rival NBC has clearly given up on storytelling in the 10 o’clock hour with its move of bringing in Jay Leno five nights a week. Business-wise it might make sense but writers, actors and agents are, obviously, unhappy. Her thoughts on a primetime talkshow? And would that effect what CBS airs in the hour?


‘My first reaction was to say thank you. Our 10 o’clock programs do extremely well. It’s a coveted time period. The creative community was shocked. So many top tier talents vie for that time period,” she said, while adding that she didn’t see the need to rebuild the hour’s template because of the Peacock’s past errors. “Why should one network’s failure in development redirect an entire schedule strategy?”


Simon B Clearly, CBS has found success in delivering crime procedurals, and it makes no apologies in sticking with the format. “CSI,” “Without a Trace,” “NCIS” and now the season’s top-rated new show, “The Mentalist,” have all worked because they don’t stray far from what they promise on a weekly basis: Delivering a singular star – be it Anthony La Paglia, Mark Harmon, and now Laurence Fishburne replacing William Petersen — who helps catch the bad guys.


Not to say everything the Eye does is perfect. When the network leaves its comfort zone – aka no murders in an episode – shows can flop. Despite a likeable star in Elizabeth Reaser, “The Ex List” was a bust.


“It failed in its execution,” Tassler admitted. “People liked the concept but it didn’t find its pulse.”


And “Swingtown,” about sexually liberated couples of the ‘70s, was certainly a better show than “The Ex List” but never caught on either. Maybe it was the time slot or the concept, but “Swingtown” didn’t make it and isn’t coming back.


“We were extremely proud of the execution and are happy to report that it ended up on over a half-dozen top 10 lists in 2008,” Tassler said. “In many regards, that was a victim of the writers strike. It was a risk and we’re proud of it, and we would do it again.”


As for what’s ahead, Tassler said plans for a “NCIS” spinoff are continuing and should be ready for fall, musician John Mayer is working on a variety show that could either be a special or series, and she’s not sure how or if David Letterman will tweak his show when Conan O’Brien takes over “The Tonight Show.”


As for recent transitions, Tassler said she was “thrilled” with how Drew Carey has taken over daytime staple “The Price Is Right” — despite falling ratings and some fan unhappiness — and didn’t anticipate any changes on the gameshow.

— Stuart Levine

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