CBS' Tassler weighs in on NBC's 'Leno'

Exec says it was 'an experiment that obviously did not work'

With CBS solid in the ratings and its programming and management the epitome of stability, the biggest suspense at the network's executive session at the Television Critics Assn.'s winter press tour was over what entertainment president Nina Tassler would say about NBC's Jay Leno debacle. She called Leno taking over a primetime slot at 10 p.m. "an experiment that obviously did not work."

"If we can harken back to when there was a grand proclamation that 8 p.m. was over, they were going to have a whole different strategy," she said of NBC. "Then along came 10 p.m., and they were going to have a whole different strategy."

"Ultimately, there is no substitute for developing great shows, working with great talent and getting your shows on the air," she said. "The unfortunate thing is our creative community was somewhat bruised by this. A lot of people were put out of work and saw this as having a pretty negative impact."

During the Q&A session, Tassler also gave praise to all of its rivals -- except NBC.

"It's been a great season for network television," she said. "It's been an outstanding freshman class across the board. We introduced two top new series in 'NCIS: Los Angeles' and 'The Good Wife.' Fox has 'Glee', ABC has 'Modern Family,' the CW has 'Vampire Diaries.'"

Tassler also confirmed the cancellation of "Three Rivers" but noted reports of eight lives that were saved due to the show raising awareness of organ donation.
The executive also made supportive statements for two on-air CBS talents who have recently made controversial headlines -- "Two and a Half Men" star Charlie Sheen, who was arrested in December in a domestic dispute, and "Late Show" host David Letterman, who admitted to having sex with staff members last fall. In both cases, she emphasized the performer was behaving professionally and did not suggest any consequences were forthcoming from the network. 

"We're being sensitive to the fact this is a very personal and very private matter," she said of Sheen's arrest. "There's been no real impact. ... Right now, it's business as usual."

Tassler also was asked about the state of "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," which has suffered ratings drops since the departure of original star William Petersen and arrival of new leading man Lawrence Fishburne.

"I think they're doing much better in finding Fishburne's character," she said. "You can't deny Fishburne is a powerful actor and a force to be reckoned with."

That said, Tassler said afterward that CBS would welcome back Petersen with "open arms," though right now "there are no plans" to have him on the show this season.

Regarding Friday's crime lineup, which has slipped in the ratings this season, Tassler said, "We have two shows there, with 'Ghost Whisperer' and 'Medium,' that have good flow. 'Numbers' is being considered for next year, but we had to cut back on its order to get 'Miami Medical' on the air."

Even with real estate sparse, Tassler said the network will continue to shoot as many pilots as last year (about nine dramas and eight comedies). "We can't be complacent," she said.

Tassler was also asked about the decision to put new unscripted series "Undercover Boss" after the Super Bowl.

"We've seen five or six episodes; there is a tone to the show (that) we felt was a great fit," she said. "We think we're going to launch another big branded reality show."