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Tassler Defends CBS’ Evolving Models, Diversity Record #TCA14

CBS Entertainment chairman Nina Tassler said that her network is adapting to the evolving media landscape and defended CBS’ record on diversity Thursday at the TCA summer press tour.

“If we’re only going to talk about 18-49, I may as well get up off my chair and change my television manually,” Tassler said during her executive session. Noting that the industry is in “a transitional phase,” Tassler returned repeatedly to the idea of the network looking at more than ratings when creating series and deciding their futures.

“When we are building shows and we are looking at the infrastructure, the creative infrastructure of the show, we’re having conversations about the longevity,” she said. “Does this show have the creative bones to go into the 15 years that CSI can go? Can something expand to the global dominance of an NCIS. That is the Holy Grail. For us, it’s being able to have shows of that stature.”

With Fox having Monday tapped studio chiefs Dana Walden and Gary Newman to lead Fox Broadcasting while allowing them to maintain control of 20th Century Fox Television, the relationship between broadcasters and their sister studios has been in the spotlight. Tassler brushed off a question about whether CBS ownership is a deciding factor in choosing which shows to cancel or renew.

“We will never ever discriminate solely on ownership,” she said. “We will buy from and always have from all studios.”

Tassler also defended CBS’ onscreen diversity record. Two days after ABC Entertainment Group president Paul Lee touted the breadth of diversity across his new fall shows at the press tour, Tassler fielded several questions about her network’s lack thereof.

Asked about the lack of diversity in the new falls comedies, Tassler said, “We don’t just look at one genre. We have to look at the entire network. We have to look at every single day part. We have to look at every single genre.” She added, “I think from sun up to sun down across the entire schedule there is diversity.”

When a reporter pointed out that no show in CBS’ fall season will have a member of a racial minority as the sole lead, Tassler pointed to current summer series Extant, starring Halle Berry, as well as co-leads Lucy Liu of Elementary and Maggie Q of Stalker.

“We have one of the biggest stars in the entire universe [Berry] featured in one of our shows this summer,” Tassler said. “We don’t look at fall as the defining mark of our diversity quota. We look at the entire year. We look at the entire day part. And if we don’t reach, if we don’t have as diverse casts as we would like to going into the season, we see where we can add.”

Other highlights from the session included:

—During her opening remarks, Tassler volunteered her disappointment over one of her shows not receiving a primetime Emmy nomination for best drama series. “I’m still really pissed about The Good Wife,” she said.

Asked later about the Emmys, Tassler said, “It’s a very complicated process. You look at what The Good Wife does every year, we have 22 episodes. Look at our production schedules. They are so much more demanding. They are so much more difficult.” Like her NBC counterpart Bob Greenblatt on Sunday, Tassler offered a simple solution to overcrowding in the Emmy field. “For many of us, we still remember the ACE Awards. I want to be the first person to get in line to bring them back.”

—Tassler hinted that as the network prepares its new late-night lineup, it may make dramatic changes at the 12:30 a.m. time period, from which Late Late Show host Craig Ferguson will depart later this year. “There is a very knee jerk reaction to go with a behind-the-desk interview format, but who knows?” Tassler said, adding, “It might not [be a talk show], but it also might be.” She also said that the network will begin detailed discussions about the format for Late Show with Stephen Colbert in August, but that the incoming host has already committed to an interview-style show. No premiere dates have been set yet for the new late-night shows.

—The plot of the upcoming final season of Two and a Half Men, Tassler revealed, will revolve around a gay marriage storyline, with Ashton Kutcher’s character proposing to Jon Cryer’s character—both characters being heterosexual—that they marry so that they can more easily adopt a child together. Tassler said she does not expect the LGBT community to react negatively. “I think it’s a very positive statement,” she said. “It’s like, you know what, I am going to adopt a child as a gay couple, and it’s like, you know what, he can do that. And in a universe in which at one point you couldn’t do that and now you can do that, I think that’s a much more positive statement that he’s making.”

Asked whether former star Charlie Sheen might make a return appearance in the final season, Tassler said, “We’re not having those conversations right now.”