Left Coast Bias: A Happy New Year for Nina Tassler

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When you are born into a Jewish family of any kind, certain inevitabilities tend to come with the territory. You're probably not going to be the tallest kid at school. A career as a pro athlete? Yeah, that's most likely not in the cards. And chances are, you'll end up being pretty neurotic.

That last bit of fate is exactly what plagued current CBS Entertainment President—and future cantor—Nina Tassler as the broadcast networks rolled out the new season. “I am way too Jewish to be relaxed about any of this,” she says of premiere week.

Still, tribe membership does have its privileges, such as those near-empty screenings at movie theatres every December 25. But Tassler reaped another benefit last week.

At her synagogue on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which this year fell the weekend before premiere week, her rabbi gave a sermon saying that stability is a fraud, with the highs and lows of day-to-day life being the norm that truly defines us. This helped center Tassler as she headed into a season in which everyone was wondering if viewers were actually going to come back to broadcast television.

“Does it make you nervous? Sure,” she admits. “We know the comments and the stories are all about [ratings] erosion. But [CBS was] up last year, so it can happen.”

Emmy night went well, and on the first Monday of the season, people at the office were busy hearing pitches for new development. But Tassler says everyone knew the day was really all about waiting for that night's inevitable judgment from a truly higher power: Nielsen. “Everyone walked around nervously looking at each other,” she says.

The next morning, Tassler woke at 5:45 a.m., when the first numbers of the season came in. But she wouldn't look right away. She made coffee first. She picked up her BlackBerry, stared at it, fidgeted with it, and even opened her inbox and went anywhere but the ratings e-mail.

She finally gave in and learned that fortunately, the CBS season started with a “Big Bang." The news got even better on Tuesday night, with the network's largest audience since Indecent Proposal was a new movie rather than an apt description of Mackenzie Phillips' life with father. (Too soon? Sorry.)

One of Tassler's mantras is, “There is no happiness in this business, just relief.” Last week, however, she let a little joy creep in. And the joy was felt throughout broadcast TV; ABC opened two rookie comedies plus FlashForward well, and Fox's House returned huge.

“It's a great show and that was a great episode,” she says of the Fox drama. “If House is delivering, it's good for all of us. The ABC comedies premiering strong, that's good for all of us. It's proving that the networks still have some muscle.”

Tassler knows, however, that there is a long road ahead and that viewers are still making decisions. She believes The Jay Leno Show probably helped her at 10 p.m., but not one new show on any network was able to beat Leno's 5.3 opening demo number. And she's very aware that some returning shows like CSI displayed worrisome year-over-year declines. Factor in that she has yet to figure out what to get her boss for a new baby present, and there is plenty to kvetch about.

But Tassler survived another premiere week, and was able to go into Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, with nothing to feel too awful about.

“Yeah, right,” she laughs. “We can all dig something up.”

E-mail comments toben.grossman@reedbusiness.com

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