Tassler: CBS' 'Hit-Maker' Extraordinaire Will Seek Hits in Other Fields

CBS chief built ratings juggernaut; "‘boy, how hard is that?'" says Gail Berman
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When Nina Tassler was promoted to CBS entertainment chairman in the winter of 2014, Leslie Moonves, her longtime boss and friend, cited Tassler’s creativity and leadership in forming a formidable “hit-making machine” at the network. Tassler will next aim to make hits in other media—publishing, perhaps film and theater--following her departure from CBS.

Tassler holds the chairman title through the year, then is an advisor to CBS at least through 2017. “I am here to help and work with the network in any way Leslie feels is beneficial,” she told B&C.  

The polymath exec’s non-TV interests include a book due out next spring called What I Told My Daughter: Lessons From Leaders on Raising the Next Generation of Empowered Women. The collection of essays and anecdotes, written with Cynthia Littleton of Variety, features contributions from Nancy Pelosi, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Laura Bush and other prominent females.

The idea was hatched when Tassler, 58, spoke with her daughter after the teen had a rough time in a volleyball tournament. She told B&C earlier this summer: “We spend so much time worrying about our children’s health--their physical health, their mental health, but what about, I say, (what you could call) their feminist health?”

Live events centered around the book may be an option, and Tassler is keen to publish subsequent books. “I think it’s a franchisable title/concept,” she said.

Word of Tassler’s departure surprised many, since she’d reupped her contract just last year. But programming a broadcast network is grueling to say the least, especially with the pressure of stabilizing ratings amidst competition from the streaming services, buzzy cable originals and the DVR. One former network president, speaking on background, mentioned workdays that simply never end, navigating Hollywood politics, and the endless stress of ratings. “You never have any downtime,” said the exec. “It is a tough, tough gig. Over time you just get worn down.”

Tassler disputes the notion that burnout was a factor, countering that she simply knew it was time to move on. “These are hard jobs, no question about it,” she said. “But they’re unbelievable jobs too.”

Tassler is one of most well liked execs in the industry. She’s known as a fierce ally of producers, protecting them from too much network meddling. “Nina is a wonderful woman and a fantastic creative partner—she’s splendid to work with,” says Gail Berman, principal at Jackal Group and former Fox entertainment chief. “[CBS] has managed to build a consistently successful schedule; boy, how hard is that?”

Besides building an enviable primetime—CBS was the most-viewed network for 12 out of the last 13 years—Tassler’s legacy includes creative deal-making, such as the licensing arrangement with Amazon for Under the Dome, and a smooth late-night transition with Stephen Colbert succeeding David Letterman on The Late Show. While there were plenty of misses (short-lived Swingtown was a passion project for Tassler), the hits--such as the CSI franchise and breakout comedy The Big Bang Theory—continue to pay massive dividends. She says she’s most proud to have built “transformative” shows across every daypart, including daytime and late night.

Glenn Geller, new entertainment president at CBS, calls Tassler “a force of nature” who raised the energy level of her team with her mere presence.   

Much of Hollywood is curious to see what Tassler focuses her considerable creative energies on next. Whatever shape that project may take, Berman suggests her old friend steer it her way. “Nina is beloved,” says Berman, “and with very good reason.”  

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