Thursday morning marked CBS Entertainment Chairman Nina Tassler's turn to take the stage of the Television Critics Association summer press tour and have
rotten tomatoes prying questions thrown at her by critics, and her attitude during the session mirrored CBS's reputation: It was somewhat boastful, it was safe, and it was broad.
Coming off a down season in the important 18-to-49 demographic (where CBS finished third) but still wearing its familiar "America's Most-Watched Network" sash, CBS gets a "B" for the 2013-2014 season overall. It also faces the same challenges as its fellow broadcast networks: threat of extinction by way of a cable-shaped asteroid, and potential annihilation by aliens from a planet called Netflixamazon. Tassler discussed all these things and more; here are the highlights.
On The Good Wife's recent Emmys snub:
Unprompted, one of the first things out of Tassler's mouth was, "I admit it, I'm still really pissed about The Good Wife [not getting any Emmy nominations]." So rest assured, we are not alone.
On the proliferation of alternate methods of watching television (i.e. the "Are you scared of Netflix?" question):
Tassler openly acknowledged that all new forms of streaming television—without naming any by name, of course, because your enemies get stronger when you say their names—pose new challenges. But she sees it as a developing ecosystem in which everyone can exist, rather than a hostile coup being executed over wi-fi: "These platforms aren't replacing each other, they're complementing each other," she explained. And she's in a good position to say that, as Netflix recently bought the streaming rights to CBS's 2015 "event series" Zoo for reportedly much more than the $900,000 per episode Amazon is paying CBS for Extant and Under the Dome. That means that all of those shows are mostly paid for before CBS even picks up a camera, so yep, that's quite a complement. Other networks aren't so lucky.
How many times she said "most-watched" in her opening speech:
I lost track at five.
On the network's ongoing contract renegotiations with the cast of The Big Bang Theory:
Tassler said it's a good problem (my word, not hers) to have, because successful shows go through renegotiations. "We feel very confident things will get done." Yes, I have a feeling that CBS will want to invest a few extra million into their billion-dollar franchise.
On the future of the passed-over How I Met Your Dad pilot and what went wrong:
"We adore [How I Met Your Dad (and Mother) creators Craig Thomas and Carter Bays] and want to stay in business with them," Tassler said, giving the impression that there's some weight to the rumors that Dad isn't quite as dead as we had previously thought. But why didn't CBS give it a go this season? It all came down to casting. Tassler didn't mention anyone specific, but said, "You make the best decisions you can depending on casting," and reminded everyone that The Big Bang Theory wouldn't be what it is today if CBS hadn't re-shot the pilot and added Kaley Cuoco, who initially wasn't part of the project. Reading between the lines, I'd say that How I Met Your Dad has a great shot at being part of the development slate for 2015-2016, with at least some of the cast swapped out.
On Battle Creek and how much Vince Gilligan will be involved:
If you've done your TV development homework, then you know that Battle Creek was in development at CBS more than 10 years ago but is only now hitting the air (it's slated to debut in early 2015). Is that because creator Vince Gilligan is suddenly a lot sexier due to the success of Breaking Bad? Obviously, but Tassler says that now is really the first time that Gilligan's been available to produce the show for CBS. After selling Battle Creek to the network, he "went across town and sold another show which occupied his time for a couple years," she said. "We've always tried to do it. This was the first window he had the opportunity to produce it."
But how much will Gilligan be involved with Battle Creek, seeing as how he also has Better Call Saul percolating at AMC? "Whatever way, shape, or form he wants to be involved, we're happy with that," Tassler said. She also said that she's extremely excited to have David Shore, the creator and showrunner of House, running Battle Creek, and that the show is in capable hands even if Gilligan can't be involved in the day-to-day operations.
On CBS's diversity in comedy, or lack thereof:
This was the testiest exchange of the session, with one reporter pressing Tassler to address the lack of color in the network's comedies, which feel somewhat blinding after ABC's sessions two days ago, which previewed Black-ish, Cristela, and John Cho co-starring in Selfie (and don't forget Fresh Off the Boat, which didn't host a panel). Tassler said that CBS looks at diversifying across all of its programming, citing Halle Berry's lead role on Extant as well as the upcoming Maggie Q-starrer Stalker and the recent announcement that Cote de Pablo will headline the miniseries The Dovekeepers. When the unrelenting reporter pushed the conversation back to the lack of diversity specifically in the network's comedies, Tassler mentioned that one of the main characters in the upcoming The McCarthys is gay. But she never said anything about Raj from The Big Bang Theory! C'mon, Nina!
On why multi-camera comedies work on CBS:
Basically, because CBS is really good at making them, according to Tassler. "We have a keen ability to identify those kinds of talents [that are good at the 'stage' of multi-camera comedy]," she said. She also brought up the difficult trick of timing multi-camera comedy rhythms just right, and pointed toward The McCarthys as a show started as a single-camera comedy and redeveloped as a multi-camera comedy, saying that the show is much, much better as a result. And I'm not sure if this is an insult or not, but she said, "Our audience does appreciate the level of humor that multi-cams deliver."
On the major earthquake that will soon befall CBS's late-night landscape:
There's not a ton to go on here; according to Tassler, talks are in the early stages with Stephen Colbert about what format he's looking to use when he takes over for David Letterman as the host of Late Show. Colbert wants an interview format, but he's not sure whether he wants a band. He's definitely retiring the "Stephen Colbert" character he uses on his Comedy Central show. And about that 12:30am slot that Craig Ferguson is abandoning? Who knows? CBS is looking at all formats, so there's a chance that the network could go nuts and not even put a traditional talk show in that slot. Start the rumors!!!
On CBS's dominance in total audience while lagging in the younger demographic:
Ahhhh, the million-dollar question! And Tassler seemed a bit irked by it; she must get it a lot. "If we're only going to talk about 18-to-49, I might as well get up from my chair and turn the channel manually," she said, delivering the zinger of the session. "18 to 49 can only be part of the story. There are many more metrics."
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