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CBS Chief Nina Tassler Talks About Her Next Move

”It was one hundred percent my choice“ to leave, network exec tells TheWrap about her plan to depart at year’s end

Nina Tassler has been CBS’ top-ranking entertainment executive for 11 years. That tenure, the network announced Tuesday, will end at the close of this year, when Tassler steps down as chairman of CBS Entertainment. She will be succeeded by current programming head Glenn Geller.

Tassler leaves CBS at the top of the broadcast-television mountain — the No.1 network in total viewers for 12 of the last 13 seasons, and poised, with its airing of the Super Bowl in February, to take the advertiser-coveted 18-49 demo crown from NBC. The network also saw the re-launch last week of “The Late Show” with new host Stephen Colbert, the first person other than founding host David Letterman to take up permanent residence behind the desk at the network’s lead late-night franchise. Colbert’s debut was preceded in March by the premiere of James Corden as host of “The Late Late Show” at 12:30 a.m. The Colbert and Corden transitions were both projects with which Tassler was deeply involved.

“It was one hundred percent my choice” to leave, Tassler told TheWrap. “I have zero regrets. I just take with me the most extraordinary memories and relationships. It’s been a great ride.”

The outgoing executive, who will remain a consultant at the network though 2017, also spoke about her successor, her plans for the future and her relationship with her boss, CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves.

What was to process like leading up to this decision, and when did you start thinking about it in earnest?
In earnest, actually over the summer in July. I had been ruminating for quite some time. As you know, Leslie and I are very close. We’ve worked together for 25 years. I’ve been here with him for 17 years and had this job for 11 years. A couple years ago, when my best friend passed away from cancer, I was having a tough time. You become very introspective. We had a real heart to heart. He encouraged me to keep going and to stay. And I have tremendous loyalty to him — he’s been my boss, my mentor my friend for many, many years.

This had been rolling around inside of me for quite some time. Come this summer, we sat down and had lunch. I opened up my heart to him and said, I’m done. I’m done and I feel great. I’ll be here to launch Colbert and launch Corden–which has been one of the highlights of my career–and he knew right away. We have a shorthand and a closeness, and he could tell that I really was done. I have a daughter who’s a junior in high school. My mom is 82. I’ve been blessed to be with my husband since I was 18. We’ve been married for 31 years. I’m one of the lucky ones. I just knew the time was right.

Was getting the new “Late Show” launched important to the timing of this announcement?
It was absolutely a consideration, no doubt about it. The launch of that show was an enormous priority for the entire organization. We are a very closely connected company–all the divisions work very closely with each other. An unprecedented coordinated effort preceded the launch of this show. Post-that, I said it’s time now. I feel between late night, daytime, prime time, summer, I’m at peace and enormously grateful. We are poised for continued growth.

How involved were you in the decision to promote Glenn Geller?
Glenn has been here since 2001. Glenn and I worked very closely over the years. He was an important part of the current programming department and he rose up the ranks to become the head of the current programming department. The extraordinary vantage point of someone who is in charge of current is not just overseeing, but problem solving, making creative decisions about all of the content that’s on air. Once we launched “The Talk,” Glenn was very involved with that. As we were beginning the transition on Colbert and Corden, he’s been a key player in that. All of the prime time shows, he’s been involved in that. And I think it’s important to note that he is a wonderful manager.

What you look at your tenure, what are you most proud of?
I think it would have to be “CSI.” That show transformed our company in a pretty remarkable way. The fact that the show is going into its finale this fall is a source of personal pride. Second to that would be Corden and Colbert. James Corden and [“Late Late Show producer”] Ben Winston came to this company literally one year ago. Ben Winston called me the other day and goes, “Do you realize I was at your house for break-fast after Yom Kippur last year?” and here he is on the air. It’s kind of remarkable.

What are you going to do next?
I don’t know. I’m here til the end of the year. I have a book coming out in the spring. I have a couple of plays that I’m producing. I’m on the board of trustees at Boston University. I’m on the board of trustees at Jewish Family Services. Those are things I know. Beyond that I don’t know.

Les just re-upped his deal at the end of last year to stay at CBS through 2019. Did that factor into your decision, and was there any discussion about you taking on a role in the company with expanded responsibilities?
No, I’ve always marched to the beat of my own drum and made decisions predicated on my own inner time clock and what feels right. I’m extremely lucky that I’ve worked for and with amazing people in my life. Even though I’ll move on to whatever awaits me, my relationship with Leslie is so strong. So whatever I’m involved with, we will always be closely connected.

Could you see yourself producing for the network?
Sure. I’m going to keep all my options open. I’m just going to take a little time and really process this whole experience and keep an open mind.

As you’re handing things off to Glenn, what would you identify as the biggest challenge facing the network in the next few years?
I think if anything this is perhaps one of the most exciting times for this network. I don’t see them as challenges, I see them as opportunities. We have such a strong relationship with the studios, and I like to say that our shows our like distance runners–whatever platform they migrate to, they make money for the company. I think quite frankly right now one of the best opportunities we have is the strength of the bond between our studio and our network. We own so many successful shows that are on our air. It’s a great opportunity to produce owned content and monetize them as they got out to the world and continue to grow.