CBS chief deals with blush factor head-on

Times Staff Writer

THE theme of CBS’ executive session on Wednesday: This is not the Nina we know.

This fall, not only will CBS not be your grandparents’ network anymore -- with a slate of new shows that could make them blush with anger or embarrassment -- but its president of entertainment, Nina Tassler, will not be skirting controversy either.

Addressing a room of sometimes testy reporters at the semiannual gathering of television writers and critics in Beverly Hills, Tassler fielded a slew of pointed inquiries about the stunning return of the post-apocalyptic drama “Jericho” and creative clashes that resulted in the abrupt departures of “NCIS” creator Donald P. Bellisario in May and “Criminal Minds” star Mandy Patinkin this week.

Meanwhile, journalists also peppered Tassler with questions about the appropriateness of her “daring and different” new shows for the traditionally meat-and-potatoes, older-skewing network. “Kid Nation,” a new reality show on which children without on-screen adult supervision must create their own society, has already been criticized as exploitive, while midseason replacement “Swingtown,” set during the sexual experimentation of the 1970s, is expected to push the boundaries for explicitness.


“I hope we’re going to be dealing with these kind of questions,” said Tassler in reference to a “Kid Nation” question. “You have to stir public debate ... we know people are going to be talking and discussing this. I don’t want that to have a negative connotation.”

That was only one of several points during the hourlong question-and-answer session at which the executive uncharacteristically said she welcomed scrutiny and any controversy that may come with it.

“I told Chris [Ender],” who is the network’s senior vice president of communications, “I said it’s not going to be the Nina that he knew,” said Tassler who remained firm and steady throughout her remarks. “Maybe it comes out of ‘Jericho.’ ”

In that rare circumstance, the network relented to massive fan pressure earlier this summer and exhumed the show for seven more episodes. Tassler admitted she may have made a mistake in breaking up the serialized drama with an extended hiatus rather than running the show in consecutive weeks -- a move that hurt its ratings.

But Tassler said the upcoming seven episodes will be the last unless the show’s audience increases. CBS has the most total viewers of the major networks, but it ranked second in the coveted demographic of viewers ages 18 to 49.

“We’ve said to the fans, you’ve got to be our ‘Jericho’ rangers, you’ve got to recruit more viewers,” said Tassler.

She provided few details about Bellisario’s ouster from “NCIS” and Patinkin’s departure from “Criminal Minds.” Of Patinkin, Tassler would only say it was a “personal issue” that prompted his request to leave the show, and that she felt Patinkin -- rather than she -- should provide further elaboration.