CBS Chief on 'Supergirl,' Stephen Colbert and a Big Bet on Football

Nina Tassler  - H 2015
Monty Brinton/CBS & Francis Specker/CBS

Nina Tassler  - H 2015

Nina Tassler kicked off the final week of press tour with a nod to TV's fractured landscape.

But rather than bemoan the challenges that come with an increasingly crowded terrain, the CBS entertainment chairman used her platform at the Television Critics Association summer tour to tout the growing possibilities for securing and monetizing an audience. In doing so, she focused not on linear ratings — saving herself from having to acknowledge the 4 percent slide CBS took in the all-important 18-49 demo last season — but rather on an expanding pie that includes DVR, on-demand and streaming. In making her case, she pointed to freshman drama Scorpion, which added roughly 6 million viewers once those other platforms were factored in. "And we get paid for all of it!" she added, stressing the increased benefit of owning one's own programming.

"The backdrop of the new season will once again be a TV business that continues to change at a very rapid pace, and that’s fine by us," Tassler said from the Beverly Hilton stage. Though she declined (twice) to be more specific about the revenue potential from non-linear platforms, she insisted she didn't care whether CBS viewers were watching on their TV, tablet or phone — so long as they were watching. At one point during her half-hour session, she suggested that trying to make the distinction between a traditional television company and a streaming one “misses the point,” noting that in order to subsist in the brave new world everyone needs to be both. 

But none of that matters if you don't have strong content, she reiterated, which is why Tassler went into heavy plug mode for CBS' new offerings, with special attention paid to big fall bet Supergirl. The genre series, from Greg Berlanti and Ali Adler, is already generating strong buzz, and Tassler said she was hopeful that the "relatable" show will bring new viewers to her aging network.

Here are the other highlights from Tassler's turn before the press.

Introducing Colbert

Without coughing up many details, Tassler hinted that viewers will get to see a different side of Stephen Colbert this fall. In rattling off his skills, for instance, she noted such things as his love for "song and dance." She stressed that he’d be able to deliver substantive interviews, too, and would become a key voice for late night viewers as "the smartest guy in the room" during an election year. What’s more, he’s the kind of "of the moment" host that Tassler believes late night demands today — able to be creative across multiple platforms. To that end, she praised lead-out James Corden, who in his first four months has exceeded CBS’ expectations on-air and online, where he has amassed close to 200 million clip views for his growing collection of viral videos. And best of all, as Tassler noted, CBS now owns both of its late night shows, allowing it to realize revenue across multiple platforms at a time when traditional ratings (and the ad revenue that comes with it) dwindles.

Embracing Missteps — Kind Of

Tassler has never been known for her overwhelming candor, which is why the Hilton ballroom no doubt appreciated her honest (if terse) response to a question about the low-rated, critically-scorned reality show, The Briefcase, which was dubbed "poverty porn" in certain corners of the Internet. "The show didn’t land," she said. "The audience didn’t respond. That happens." She was far less candid about the slides for summer series Under the Dome and Extant. Instead, she focused on the network's innovative model — both shows sold early streaming rights to Amazon, making them profitable from the onset — and stressed how well they continue to perform on other platforms. When pressed about Dome's future, she noted that the dome would be coming down at the end of this season, which could open up new storytelling opportunities for the show.

About that Good Wife Scene

For years, CBS had succeeded in keeping the off-camera friction between Good Wife stars Julianna Margulies and since departed Archie Punjabi under wraps. That is, until word leaked that the actors' final scene together wasn't actually shot together. "I'm not going to reveal movie magic," Tassler said when asked about the decision. "The ending was very satisfying for the characters and I stand by how Robert and Michelle King produce their show." In the same breadth, she defended what was a decidedly more critically mixed season, adding: "I feel the show still raises the bar of quality."

Thank You, Football

This coming season is poised to be a particularly big one for CBS, which will not only feature two days of NFL programming (on Sundays and on Thursdays) but also serve as the host network for Super Bowl 50. And no, Tassler didn't even try to hide her excitement about the linear ratings potential of that much live, event programming.