CBS: Not Happy About Being Second - and Raring to Fix That

Nina Tassler
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"It's only one night in a long season, but it's certainly a spectacular and rewarding way to get started."

There’s always a kind of coiled intensity to CBS entertainment president Nina Tassler, but on Saturday morning she seemed especially about to spring. That’s because CBS, like ABC and Fox before it, doesn’t have a hit to tout.

Even worse for CBS, it has plenty of shows that pull in the most viewers, but not in the coveted 18-49 demo that advertisers pay the most money for. CBS being No. 1 in total viewers is like the second place finisher in the Miss America pageant being told she’s actually more pretty than the winner. It doesn’t really matter.

“It’s not the be all and end all,” Tassler said of the 18-49 demo, even though it is.

Of course, earlier in the executive session, Tassler was eager to point out that CBS was just a smidge – a tiny, infinitesimal fraction behind NBC in 18-49. It was like she was a little peeved about it. The margin was so close she seemed angry about it. Angry to be second. You don’t want to get her angry. She may be small but she can snap your neck like a twig.

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This is the kind of thing that overcomes executives when they’re second, which is a place they don’t like to be. (See this story for more on the sorrow of a weak fall season.)

But if Tassler and CBS (like the other net heads) seem a bit peeved to be in this position, to have no real hits from the fall and thus behind NBC – the laughingstock long-shot of the last decade – there’s a sense of just-you-wait that permeated Tassler’s executive session.

She knows that CBS is going to come back and has a very good chance of being No. 1 in the 18-49 demo and No. 1 in total viewers, which would preclude her from touting the fact they are currently No. 1 in the 25-54 demo, which is at best a bronze medal. It’s like saying, “Older viewers love us,” which CBS has never, ever wanted to say publicly.

Anyway, let’s focus for a second on the near future. CBS has the Super Bowl. Football is what drives NBC. It is the most popular televised anything on television. CBS also has a good looking procedural in Golden Boy and Stephen King’s Under the Dome series which was presented here in its early form and looked – no way around it – seriously intriguing. So the future looks bright. And Tassler knows that, which is probably why she was seemingly chewing off the end of her tongue to have to acknowledge being, at present, No. 2.

So, if you’re NBC right now, adjust that rear-view mirror constantly. Someone is on your tail and that someone is not happy about being there. Stay away from the guard rail. Double-check the seat belt.


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