TCA: CBS’ Tassler Says ‘Network Television Still Works’

Entertainment chief emphasizes changing deal structures as key to resilience

TCA ’09: Complete Coverage from Broadcasting & Cable

CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler insisted that network television is still kicking during a session at the Television Critics Association press tour Wednesday morning. It’s just kicking a little differently.

Referring to NBC’s announcement that it will strip a Jay Leno vehicle at 10 p.m. later this year, she called it “a bold programming move based on the model being broken” but said while that was the right move for their network, it doesn’t mean TV doesn’t work.

“Network television still works,” she says, “when viewers and advertisers respond to high-quality content.” But it “requires resilience.”

She pointed to the fact that 30 million people watched the season premiere of American Idol on Fox Tuesday night as an example of the power broadcast television has to provide a mass audience. “You don’t find these kinds of numbers on cable or any other medium,” she says.

However, change in the ways CBS does business will be key to its resilience going forward, she says.

While she says the network has always maintained a “frugal” approach to business, with the core executive team able to tap its production roots, they now are more than ever making deals differently. “When you are making deals you can be really smart in the way you construct those deals,” she says. “You will see there is a shift in the way deals are being brokered right now and everybody is on board. The old way of saying is so-in-so has a quote, those quotes don’t hold anymore. People are realizing they have to adjust.”

Tassler also is looking to new sources for deals, citing the success of Canadian import Flashpoint, which she dubbed “a great experience for us.”

Flashpoint really opened the door for us to explore different business models,” she says. “As long as the creative content is there it gives us the opportunity to scour not only Canadian but other programming opportunities.”

The future of returning shows as per usual depends largely on pilot development, she says. CBS will continue developing in the genres that have paid off for it (Read: crime procedurals and comedy) but not limiting themselves to that.

CBS will continue to develop aggressively for 10 p.m. in light of NBC’s announcement about Leno. “Why should one network’s failure in development redirect an entire schedule strategy?” she says, calling 10 pm a “real target” for CBS.

“Our first reaction when they did that was to say, ‘Thank you.’ Our 10 o’ clock dramas do extremely well,” Tassler says. “The creative community was quite frankly shocked when they first heard about it. We have so many top-tier talents who vie for that time period every year.”

Also at the CBS TCA session, Tassler confirmed Swingtown is not coming back, attributed failure of canceled freshman comedy Ex-List to the execution and confirmed the network is developing a variety project with musician John Mayer. The network also is developing a spin-off of NCIS.

Tassler said after the session that CBS has learned of late how important it is to be patient with certain shows. She cited the growth of How I Met Your Mother and The Big Bang Theory as reasons to give the right shows time to grow. “We certainly learned certain comedies, certain shows require a different level of patience,” she said.