CBS is called for piling on

'Mentalist' gets post-gridiron slot, extra episode; 'NCIS' spinoff set

CBS will air an episode of "The Mentalist" on Sunday after the network's presentation of the AFC Championship Game, giving the freshman hit its biggest lead-in to date — likely upward of 35 million viewers.

The network also is ordering an extra episode of "Mentalist" for a total of 23 in its rookie season.

CBS entertainment president Nina Tassler also confirmed Wednesday that CBS is moving forward with a spinoff of "Mentalist's" popular lead-in, "NCIS." The network is shooting a pilot that will premiere as an episode of the series, just as "NCIS" launched as an episode of "JAG."

"It's happening; we're doing it," Tassler said. "We've seen an outline, and we're going to cast and shoot it."

Tassler also said the network is close to a deal for its variety show project hosted by musician John Mayer. CBS hopes the project will become a series or a series of specials. Tassler described it as a "music-variety-sketch thing" and said she wasn't concerned about NBC's unsuccessful Thanksgiving eve "Rosie Live" variety effort.

Critics asked Tassler about NBC getting rid of its 10 p.m. dramas, a move that almost certainly will benefit the Tiffany network by reducing competition in the hour.

"Our first reaction when they did that was to say thank you," Tassler said. "It was certainly the right move for their network, but it doesn't and shouldn't suggest the current network television system doesn't work. ... (For CBS), we looked at it and said, 'Why should one network's failure in development redirect an entire scheduling strategy?' "

Tassler addressed cutting short the freshman seasons for "Worst Week" and "Eleventh Hour," two moderately rated shows, saying the decision was simply driven by scheduling to make room for midseason shows "Harper's Island" and "Rules of Engagement."

Given its ratings success, CBS enjoyed a congenial session with the critics. Tassler said the network has broken several primetime myths — that networks no longer grow their audience, that sitcoms are dead, that scheduling strategy no longer matters and that CBS has too many crime dramas.

"Six of our procedurals have increased viewership in their time period over last season," Tassler said. "I think it's now fair to call CBS the Comedy Broadcasting System as well as the Crime Broadcasting System."

CBS' performance has been aided by the network's dealmaking strategy that has lowered writer and actor salary requirements. "People are realizing that they have to adjust," she said.

CBS also is exploring more series to be co-productions with foreign networks, like midseason series "Flashpoint," a co-production with Canadian broadcaster CTV.

Given the network has so few holes to fill, next fall CBS is only looking for three dramas. "We know we're somewhat boring," said a CBS spokesperson introducing Tassler. (partialdiff)