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CBS’s Nina Tassler: Pilot Season ‘Gives Way to Creative Adrenaline’

The prez also addressed the 'Big Brother' controversy that made waves in media last summer

Following Fox topper Kevin Reilly’s disparaging comments about pilot season earlier in the week, CBS Entertainment prez Nina Tassler had a far more positive outlook on the traditional TV programming process, telling journos at the Eye’s TCA session that it “gives way to creative adrenaline.”

“I can appreciate where Kevin’s coming from,” Tassler said. “I thought a lot about this, and had to look back and say pilot season isn’t perfect, and it’s certainly a very difficult time. But it’s also exciting.”

Tassler noted that the pilot process led to crucial creative decisions with CBS mega-hit “The Big Bang Theory.” The pilot for that project, Tassler mentioned, did not have Kaley Cuoco in it. The Eye then shot a second pilot with Cuoco, which proved to add an integral element to the multi-cam laffer.

“Pilot season does work for us,” the exec remarked. “I think you can’t make these broad generalizations…Perhaps for [Fox], pilot season is more challenging.”

Tassler opened the exec session by emphasizing the continued growth of time-shifted viewing, stating that “three-day DVR playback lifts now look a lot like the 7-day lifts from a year ago.” When asked about CBS CEO Leslie Moonves’s comments regarding Live+30 figures and advertisers, Tassler quipped, “Whatever Leslie wants, Leslie gets,” before adding that she doesn’t yet know how advertisers are responding to the call for Live+30 ad pricing.

Amid a lineup of ratings juggernauts, “Hostages” fell through the cracks when it came to viewership last fall, despite its “tremendous promise,” per Tassler.

“‘Hostages’ certainly had its challenges, but we stuck with it. When a show doesn’t for whatever reason take off, you can’t look at the form and say the reason why this particular show didn’t succeed was only because of its form. We thought there were a lot of great elements to this show. There’s always a knee jerk reaction in our business to analyze and determine why something didn’t work. It’s kind of abstract.”

What isn’t abstract, Tassler admitted, is the strength of competitor Big Four nets on Monday nights, which made it difficult for “Hostages” to gain the kind of traction that CBS programs have become known for.

“Kudos to James Spader and Mark Burnett,” she said. “It’s a much tougher time period, Monday at 10 p.m…A tip of the hat to ‘Blacklist’ and ‘Castle.'”

Tassler also spent quite a bit of time during the exec session addressing the racist and controversial remarks made by “Big Brother” contestant Aaryn Gries during the reality show’s most recent run, and offering praise for how the producers handled the issue in production.

“I was mortified by the comments Aaryn made,” Tassler said. “We have to look at last summer as this confluence of events — Trayvon Martin, Paula Deen. It was this extraordinary series of events that were dominating the news-waves. We have to remind ourselves that ‘Big Brother’ is a social experiment…You do the requisite background checks…At the end of the day, we felt the producers handled it responsibly.”

Tassler continued, “You always try to look for a disparate group where you will have story, conflict, opportunity for alliances to be formed…It’s not a science. You go into every season hoping you will make the right choices, pick the right people. It’s how someone comes across in the one-on-one interview [before the show tapes]…Sometimes the way they behave in the context of that room [compared to on the show] is very different.”

As for why CBS aired Aaryn and other’s controversial remarks?

“When the conversations make it into story, that’s when it makes it to air.”

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