A feisty Nina Tassler took a couple sharp digs at NBC Monday, even as she defended the network’s controversial plans to revamp next month’s Emmy Awards and predicted a rebound for "CSI" following a tough season.
The CBS Entertainment president, her confidence perhaps bolstered by the network’s trend-defying ratings growth last season, launched a few well-chosen verbal volleys against NBC, specifically targeting the network’s plans to shakeup primetime by stripping Jay Leno at 10 p.m.
"Whatever numbers they get, they’re going to declare victory anyway," Tassler told reporters gathered in Pasadena for the CBS portion of the TV Critics Assn. summer press tour. "So it really doesn’t matter anyway."
The zinger was a not-so-subtle reference to NBC’s now infamous press release declaring Conan O’Brien "the new king of late night" after just one week of ratings information had been processed.
Tassler said CBS executives were surprised by NBC’s Conan hype.
"We said, ‘Really? Really?’," Tassler said of the Peacock’s release.
Tassler also took a few digs at outgoing NBC Entertainment co-chairman Ben SIlverman.
When asked her reaction to Silverman’s departure, Tassler oozed sarcasm: "I’m really just a D-girl, so I wouldn’t comment," she said.
Silverman once publicly dismissed his rivals at other networks as "D-girls."
And immediately after her formal session, Tassler predicted Silverman would remain a presence in Hollywood.
"I’m sure wherever he goes, whatever he does, he’ll (make news)," Tassler predicted. "This is someone who just loves to entertain."
The NBC-tweaking continued during a session for the new CBS drama "The Good Wife." Series star Julianna Margulies, who shot to fame on the NBC series "ER," said she was perplexed by the Peacock’s decision to abandon scripted programming at 10 p.m.
"It makes me sad for actors, writers and directors," she said.
On more substantive matters, Tassler strongly defended planned changes to next month’s Emmy Awards, including the proposal to "time-shift" a handful of writing and directing awards in order to free up more time for entertainment content during the show.
"I don’t think we’re being unfair to the creative community," Tassler said. "After last year’s (Emmys), everybody in this business knew we had to make a change. And change is not easy."
But Tassler insisted any changes "will be done in a respectful way" and will "have no impact on the integrity of the program."
"It’s about adding entertainment value to the telecast (and) about doing a great program," she added. "More eyeballs (for the Emmys) means more people watching the new (fall) show and watching all television. I feel very passionate about this."
Tassler also addressed last season’s ratings slide for CBS’s signature drama, the original recipe "CSI." The crime procedural suffered a double digit ratings decline as fans seemed slow to embrace the addition of Laurence Fishburne as the show’s lead detective.
"That show had some monumental changes last year," Tassler conceded. "Fans were a little unsure about where the show was going."
Tassler said she and other CBS executives have "spent a lot of time talking to producers and listening to the research" in order to formulate a plan to boost "CSI" this season. As already announced, Jorja Fox has signed on to return for the first five episodes of the new season.
Tassler also predicted that Fishburne’s character will "be much more settled in his role" on the "CSI" team.
"He’s well-versed now in the language of ‘CSI’," she said. Fishburne will also get a "wardrobe makeover," Tassler said.
Tassler began her session with reporters touting CBS’s stellar performance during the 2008-09 season. The network was "up in all key categories" at a time when most of its rivals bled audience.
"We feel good," she said. "We know there are a lot of challenges ahead. (But) we fundamentally believe in this business."
As for her barbs at NBC, Tassler said they were earned by CBS’s hard work "in the trenches."
"I wanted to shake things up, to get people to pay a little more attention to us," she said.
During her powwow with reporters, Tassler also:
–Said there are no plans to order any more episodes of Canadian import "Flashpoint."
–Predicted "The Mentalist" and "The Big Bang Theory" were "poised to become even bigger hits" next fall.
–Explained that CBS "jumped" on the chance to pick up "Medium" when NBC passed. "I don’t think NBC ever treated that show the way they should have," she said.