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Nina Tassler strode out on stage Thursday with something to offer that others can’t: seniority.
The CBS Entertainment chairman is the longest-reigning network head by several years, and in that time has endured the cyclical nature of broadcast television. Before Tassler would field a deluge of questions from reporters gathered for the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour, she used the platform to redefine what qualifies as success in an evolving landscape, noting that newer platforms such as Amazon and Netflix are more friend than foe.
Rather than tout the commercial success of her network solely in terms of ratings, she did so in terms of financial strength, noting from the Beverly Hilton stage that CBS is a “highly profitable” network. “We’re in a transitional phase. If we’re only going to talk about 18-49, I might as well get up and turn on my television manually,” she said at one point, downplaying CBS’ 17 percent drop in the key demo, where CBS rounded out the season at No. 3. (CBS remains the No. 1 network in total viewers, a title it’s held for 11 of the past 12 seasons.)
She pointed to CBS series including The Good Wife, Under the Dome and Elementary as examples of hits in the new paradigm, in which a patchwork of lucrative deals from SVOD to international help bolster a show’s profits. Another: NCIS, which she noted was not only the most watched drama on domestic TV, but also the most watched in the world. “Our competitors call it old-skewing, we call it a billion-dollar franchise,” she said to laughs.
Here’s a look at the other topics she covered during her time in front of the press.
What’s Next for Late Night
Tassler had little to offer in the way of late-night updates, suggesting that Stephen Colbert has yet to make too many format decisions outside of his decision to sit behind a desk and interview guests. Whether he’ll have a band to accompany him is something he is still considering. Tassler said she and her colleagues will huddle in August to begin discussing a timeline for the transition. As for Craig Ferguson‘s replacement at The Late Late Show, Tassler suggested it has given the network time to reconsider what the 12:30 a.m. hour should look like. In the coming weeks and months, she said her team will weigh such things as whether or not to bring in another desk format and whether it should tap a comic or a political host.
About that Emmy Snub
CBS may have scored more Emmy noms than any other broadcast net with 47, but its critical darling The Good Wife was not recognized by the Academy in the prestigious drama series category — and Tassler, who is on the board of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, admitted that she “is still really pissed” about it. (The show did receive five Emmy nominations, including acting noms for Julianna Margulies, Christine Baranski and Josh Charles, whose character was killed off in a hail of bullets last season.) Asked if it’s fair that broadcast programs that produce 22 episodes or more each season are forced to compete with expensive artisanal fare such as HBO’s eight-episode True Detective, Tassler noted that the Emmy rules governing entries “should be looked at.” She added: “Our production schedules are so much more demanding, so much more difficult.”
All About Consolidation
Despite a flurry of headlines surrounding Rupert Murdoch‘s rejected $80 billion bid Time Warner, which owns assets including Warner Bros. Television, Tassler declined to speculate about how media consolidation could affect the television ecosystem. “I think the best voices, the most creative voices and the best content always wins,” she said. “I think that’s the rule of thumb.” The issue of ownership bubbled to the surface later in the Q&A session in relation to the CBS’ decision to cancel both 20th Century Fox TV’s The Crazy Ones and Sony Pictures Television’s Friends With Better Lives while sticking with its own CBS TV Studios’ The Millers. “We buy from every supplier. We will never ever discriminate based solely on ownership. We will buy from all studios,” Tassler countered, adding: “You have to make your decision based on the content. We feel that The Millers has a lot of great material still embedded in the DNA of the show.”
Those Big Bang Contracts
That the five original stars of CBS’ comedy juggernaut The Big Bang Theory have yet to ink new deals is not particularly worrisome to Tassler, who quipped of contract queries: “I just love being able to answer these questions year after year.” She noted that such talks tend to “miraculously” come together at the eleventh hour and are often an unfortunate byproduct of a long-running successful show. “We’re feeling very confident everything will work out,” she said, reiterating “these deals work out every year.”
Diversity, Diversity, Diversity
Tassler defended the network’s record on diversity by pointing to summer series Extant, which stars Halle Berry, whom Tassler characterized as “one of the biggest starts in the universe.” But that wasn’t enough for critics, who perennially sound the diversity bell, noting that Extant is merely a summer series, while new in-season shows are on for many more weeks. Pressed still more, Tassler pointed to the gay lead character in new comedy The McCarthys, Lucy Liu in Elementary and Maggie Q, who stars in the upcoming Kevin Williamson thriller Stalker. “We always look to add more diverse characters to shows if we feel we haven’t delivered,” she continued, noting that the network does not look at diversity purely through the lens of in-season primetime series, citing daytime’s The Talk and a commitment to building diversity behind the camera as well.
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