Banff: CBS' Nina Tassler on Taking 'Hostages' From Rival Fox

Francis Specker/CBS
Nina Tassler

"I told [Jonathan Littman], 'I'm so sorry to interrupt. I’ll send your sister a nice gift, don’t worry,'" the CBS Entertainment topper recalled of her offer to the Jerry Bruckheimer TV exec.

BANFF, Alberta – Score one for chutzpah.

CBS Entertainment topper Nina Tassler on Monday recalled the moment she pulled Jerry Bruckheimer TV exec Jonathan Littman out of his niece’s bat mitzvah to grab the fall spy drama Hostages away from Fox.

It was late Friday afternoon and Tassler was almost out the office door when in comes Christina Davis, executive vp drama series development, to frantically urge her to take the pitch for Hostages, since rumors were swirling that Warner Bros. was going to sell the project to Fox.

“We must buy it,” Davis told her boss, even though Hostages, based on an Israeli format, is a highly serialized drama and CBS favors closed- ended series. But seized by the scent of a possible hit show that has since made her the ratings envy of the industry, Tassler turned her troops to acquiring Hostages at all costs.

“Well, that was it. We tried to call everybody. No one was around. Agents weren’t around,” she remembered while delivering a keynote address in Banff.

Next it was Warner Bros.’ Peter Roth in the crosshairs. "Urgent, urgent. Desperate to find him." was the message from the CBS switchboard. Tassler was almost in her car for the drive to Warner Bros. when the decision to target Littman was made.

His office wasn’t helpful, even though Tassler and Littman go way back to the deal for the original CSI series (now there was ratings gold).

"So I said, get him, get him!” Tassler continued, as she got nearer to her prey.

Littman, it turns out, was in New Jersey at the bat mitzvah, having just taken part in a solemn ceremony for his sister’s daughter, when he finally could take Tassler’s call.

“I told him, 'I’m so sorry to interrupt. I’ll send your sister a nice gift, don’t worry,' " she remembered.

And in less than an hour, CBS had a deal for Hostages.

Tassler told the Banff audience that the spy drama's producers were initially asked for the usual 22-episode order that CBS prefers. Eventually, they settled on 15 episodes, not exactly a limited run, but one that brought comfort for Tassler after she saw a series bible that could fill two or three seasons. Which is just as well, because the CBS entertainment president insisted when asked that she doesn’t have “cable envy” as her network fends off mounting competition from HBO and Showtime.

But length does matter to Tassler in one respect. “I do have a little bit of jealousy when they make 13 episodes and we’re doing 22 and sometimes 24 episodes,” Tassler insisted. “The reality is we play by different standards, the fact that we’re doing 22 and 24 episodes, and they’re on vacation at eight or 12 episodes,” she added.

The Banff World Media Festival continues until Wednesday.