Nina Tassler, President, CBS Entertainment
Nina Tassler HOF Speech
If Nina Tassler's father were still alive today, he would undoubtedly get a kick out of seeing where his daughter ended up: as the wildly successful and extremely well-liked president of CBS Entertainment. Her father, who passed away 27 years ago, worked for CBS in the 1950s, and it was the only network on in the house for most of Tassler's childhood. "CBS is kind of in my blood," she says.
Tassler first joined CBS in 1997 and has led the entertainment division since 2004, which through tentpole shows such as Two and a Half Men, Survivor and CSIhas ranked as the most-watched network eight of the past nine seasons.
"CBS is a big team efforts; she's clearly the creative force behind the most stable, successful network," says Leslie Moonves, CBS president/CEO, who has worked with and been a mentor to Tassler for more than 20 years.
Like Moonves, Tassler came from the theater - she earned a theater degree from her beloved Boston University, was an actress and worked at the Roundabout Theatre Company in New York after graduation - so her eventual transition to a talent agency and then to television was natural in many ways.
It was her love for the creative process that Moonves noticed right away when he hired Tassler at Warner Bros. Television (then Lorimar Television) in 1990. She was working as a talent agent at Triad Artists, reporting to partner John Kimble at the time, and calls being hired by Moonves the turning point in her career.
"She had such great energy and such great passion for the content and for working with creative people," Moonves says. "You could feel that right away. That is someone you want on your team."
After rising to become head of drama development for Warner Bros., where she developed successful shows such as ER, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman and Sisters, Moonves made Tassler part of his team at CBS after jumping to the network from Warner Bros.
Over her career, Tassler has used her creative passion to help develop some of network TV's highest-rated and commercially successful dramas, including the CSI franchise and NCIS for CBS, and ER for Warner Bros.
Along the way she has earned a reputation as a passionate, involved executive among some of television's top producers.
"She's creative, she's smart, she's straightforward; she lights up when she tells you she likes it; if she doesn't like it, she tells you that," says Jerry Bruckheimer, who produces CSI and The Amazing Race for the network. "She's value-added; she's got good creative ideas. It's nice when you have an executive that has ideas rather than just says yes and no."
John Wells, the former executive producer of ER, describes her not only as an advocate for writers and actors but as an executive very helpful in guiding a series to what will ultimately get it on the air and allow it to be successful-which shows in the track record of CBS' many long-running shows.
When NBC had doubts about the frenetic storytelling techniques creator Michael Crichton wanted to employ on ER, Tassler was one of the voices that advocated strongly for keeping the original format, which turned out to be a hallmark of the medical drama that would go on to run for 15 seasons.
"Having other voices inside the studio that were supporting that and understood what we were doing was essential," Wells says. "I think it may well not have survived without that."
Chuck Lorre, creator/executive producer of The Big Bang Theory, among other CBS shows, says Tassler's support through the sitcom's early development was critical to its success as well.
"The first pilot Bill Prady and I wrote and produced was decidedly flawed," Lorre says. "The bright spots were Jim Parsons and Johnny Galecki. Nina, rather than just killing it, which she certainly could have done, said, â€˜Do it again.' We did. It got better."
After more than 25 years in the business, Tassler still takes pleasure in seeing a piece of material she has been working on come together and remains involved with production-in CSI's 12th season, she is still watching dailies with new star Ted Danson.
"My most favorite part is still the creative process, watching the cycle, watching it go from the pitch all the way to the finished film, seeing the finished pilot," she says, adding that was one impetus behind her move from an agency to the development side of the business. "Once the deal was closed, I didn't want to say goodbye, I wanted to continue working on the material, continue building relationships."
And it's those relationships she has built with writers and producers in Hollywood, and the personal support she has maintained from her husband of 27 years, actor/director Jerry Levine, and two children (a 23-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter) that she sees as her greatest accomplishment.
The quick-witted Tassler doesn't like to speculate about the future because she has so much on her plate today. She says she hopes wherever it takes her, she'll be able to continue her tireless involvement in her passion projects as chairman of the entertainment division of the Jewish Federation and a member of the board of trustees of Boston University.
And-true story-Tassler, who was bat mitzvahed in 2006, has toyed with the idea of training to become a cantor.
But there's no sign that Tassler, now the longest-serving sitting broadcast network president, will be moving on from CBS anytime soon. She generally has fewer fires to put out than executives at the lesser-ranked networks (on the schedule, at least), and while she certainly had her hands full earlier this year dealing with the self-destructive comments of Charlie Sheen and his subsequent firing from Two and a Half Men, her poise and character helped see her-and the network- through.
"We face crises big and small every day around here," Moonves says. "Nina is a good executive in good times and bad."
Luckily for Tassler, and very much because of her, at CBS, the good times heavily outweigh the bad. --Andrea Morabito