CBS' Nina Tassler of Ashton Kutcher: 'I'm Just Happy to Be Where We Are Today'
CBS entertainment chief Nina Tassler greeted a press corps filled with questions Wednesday.
With the historically stable CBS heading into a transition period this fall with two of its top performers -- Two and a Half Men and CSI -- adopting new leads, the vast majority of the half hour panel at the network's Television Critics Association's tour stop was devoted to the lessons of Charlie Sheen's messy departure, the introduction of his replacement Ashton Kutcher and the passing of the torch from Laurence Fishburne to Ted Danson.
But if Tassler is concerned about all of the shake-ups at her network, she wasn't letting on, calling the changes opportunities to garner new viewers. "Both actors ... have a huge fan base and are incredibly respected in the creative community," she added, noting that they are on shows that "are incredibly well produced."
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Addressing what she has learned from the Sheen saga, Tassler sighed, "Where do I begin?" before ticking off lessons like the importance of having an "extraordinary cast" and "extraordinary writing." The network chief used the opportunity to shower Kutcher with praise, noting that "you have someone who is committed to doing their job and is incredibly professional."
As for Sheen, "I have no idea [whether Sheen can turn the corner with new Lionsgate project, Anger Management]. I know that he's moved on and ... his slate is full and he's a very busy man," she said, telling a scrum of reporters after her session that she hasn't been approached about Management.
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Though much of the room was outwardly miffed about not having the new Men cast appear at TCA, Tassler earned some goodwill by revealing a select few tidbits about Kutcher's character: He'll be playing an Internet billionaire with a broken heart named Walden Schmidt, a name creator Chuck Lorre conceived.
Tassler selected to keep other details under wraps -- including whether Sheen's character, Charlie Harper, would die -- suggesting that the sort of guessing game that surrounding the show is an important piece of the show's marketing. What she would cough up is that the show would be just as racy and irreverent as ever, claiming CBS' "programming standards and practices team is already on high alert."
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In the flurry of questions, Tassler did acknowledge that she had been present for Men's first table reading Monday and that you could "cut the air with a knife," a nod to both the delicate situation and pressure that is on this cast. She added after the panel how the show is being seen through a different lens now, reiterating her point that a new character will afford the show an opportunity to lure new viewers. "We're looking forward," she added. "I'm just happy to be where we are today."
As for Danson, Tassler's team had looked at a number of actors for the role. "When his name came up we jumped at it," she said, arguing that he's "a huge TV star" with a "tremendous amount of charisma." When one journalist inquired whether CBS had considered plucking a younger actor to fill Fishburne's shoes, Tassler didn't skip a beat: "We went for the best actor."
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She used the remainder of her time on stage addressing a smattering of other questions, including what went wrong with the Criminal Minds' spinoff and the need for a fresher unscripted hit on the network's schedule. "I just don't think [Suspect Behavior] found its rhythm ... it didn't click," admitted Tassler of the former. "I think it has nothing to do with spinoffs ... a spinoff has to work on its own, and [this one] just didn't." As for the latter, Tassler is actively looking, acknowledging that she's very eager to get a noisy competition event show a la Dancing With the Stars, American Idol or The Voice on CBS' schedule.
Of course, a CBS executive session wouldn't be complete without some reference to the show's older-skewing demographics, a sore spot for a network that is No. 1 among the big four in total viewers, upfront revenue and, impressively, Emmys. When another reporter asked Tassler how she felt when she heard ABC's Jimmy Kimmel or NBC's Joel McHale take shots at CBS' demos lately, she was ready. "I think they should stick to comedy ... and not worry about demos and ratings so much," she grinned, noting once again that CBS has more viewers in the coveted 18-to-49 demo than both ABC and NBC.