CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler Talks Lessons Learned from TWO AND A HALF MEN, Ted Danson in CSI, and More

     August 3, 2011

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Prior to the CBS portion of the TCA Press Tour, Nina Tassler, President of CBS Entertainment, took some time to talk about where she sees things going for the #1 broadcast network in viewers and Emmy nominations, the addition of Ted Danson to CSI, and what’s next for Two and a Half Men and its new lead actor, Ashton Kutcher. Here are the most interesting points:

  • CBS is adding the recognizable faces of Ashton Kutcher (Two and a Half Men), Ted Danson (CSI) and Terry O’Quinn (Hawaii Five-0) to some of the network’s most-established and most-popular series
  • Two and a Half Men went into production on their new season this past Monday
  • Ashton Kutcher will be playing broken-hearted Internet billionaire, Walden Schmidt, and his character will be introduced over a two-part story
  • They’re hoping A Gifted Man, starring Patrick Wilson, will appeal to the fans of previous CBS shows, The Ghost Whisperer and Medium
  • The highly acclaimed drama The Good Wife will return with the higher-profile time period of Sunday at 9 pm (on September 25th) and a very interesting character transformation ahead for Alicia (Julianna Margulies)
  • In a rather risky move, Rules of Engagement will be airing on Saturday nights
  • Police drama The 2-2, a pilot for Rob Schneider and reality series Undercover Boss are all being planned for mid-season
  • As of now, David Letterman and Craig Ferguson are still set in their late-night timeslots through 2012

Hit the jump for more of what she had to say:

nina-tassler-image-2Question: Do you think the viewers are aware of the fact that CBS is the #1 network in viewers? Do you think they actually care what network they’re watching?

NINA TASSLER: I think they do, and I think the fact that we are the #1 network in viewers says that they watch our network, they like our shows, and I think they expect a certain level of quality in entertainment.

What did you learn from the Charlie Sheen situation?

TASSLER: Oh, where I do begin? What we learned is that we have an extraordinary cast. I was just at the table read on Monday. We have extraordinary writers and we have extraordinary actors, and there is great value in hiring an actor like Ashton Kutcher. He is an extraordinarily professional, talented, funny, gifted actor, who comes with a tremendous amount of commitment and enthusiasm, embraced by an extraordinarily talented cast. What you learn is that’s the show is brilliantly written, extraordinarily produced, and that you have an opportunity, moving forward, to create this exciting, new character and deliver a great show.

Is there anything that you wish could have been handled differently, before it got to the point where Charlie Sheen melted down so publicly?

TASSLER: I look at where we were six months ago, and our whole focus right now is moving forward. We have an extraordinary actor in Ashton Kutcher. We have someone who is committed to doing their job, to being there, and to being an incredible professional. We’re worlds apart from where we were six months ago. Everybody made the decisions relative to the situation at hand. I’m just happy to be where we are today.

Do you have a character name yet, for Ashton Kutcher, and can you say anything about the role he’ll be playing?

TASSLER: Yes, his name is Walden Schmidt, and he is an Internet billionaire with a broken heart. It will be a two-parter, over two weeks.

So, he has no relation to any of the incumbent characters? He’s not a cousin, uncle or nephew?

TASSLER: You know what, a little bit of the mystery is a part of the marketing. But, he is a unique character.

Is there a reason why Two and a Half Men isn’t being presented at the Press Tour?

TASSLER: They’re in production this week. They started on Monday. There’s a tremendous amount of energy, focus and attention. I would be lying if I didn’t say, when everybody walked on that set on Monday, you could cut the air with knife. It requires a lot of attention. You’ve got your blocking. You’ve got your run-through. You’ve got your rewrites. You’ve got a tremendous amount of weight and effort being put into this episode.

nina-tassler-image-3Can you confirm that Two and a Half Men will start this season Charlie Sheen’s character being dead and there being a funeral for him?

TASSLER: I know that was out there, but I’m not going to confirm or deny that. As I said, the mystery is a part of the marketing. It’s going to be a big event, and I think the chatter, conversation and discussion about it is a part of what the fun of it can be.

How did Ted Danson wind up on CSI?

TASSLER: Well, we looked at a number of different choices. We looked at the arc of the stories this season on the show, and at what (executive producers) Carol Mendelsohn and Don McGill wanted to do, and he just seemed like the right choice. He is a huge TV star. He’s got a tremendous amount of charisma, and it was really what we wanted in the show right now. So, when his name came up, we jumped at it. We were thrilled to have him.

With Ashton Kutcher and Ted Danson, what are the risks and rewards of a new lead actor coming into a high-profile series? How do you manage the risks to make sure viewers tune in?

TASSLER: I think both actors that you’re talking about have a huge fan base. They are incredibly respected in the creative community. They bring a tremendous amount of goodwill. You’re also talking about going into two shows that are incredibly well produced, still have very loyal followings, and the writing on both of those shows is extraordinary. When you’re making those kinds of changes, all other aspects of the production of the show itself have to really work. Do you pay extra special attention to that first season? Absolutely. The whole addition of a new cast member can bring about a wonderful opportunity to reveal to a whole new audience and elements about the existing cast. For example, the conversations I’ve had with people about Two and a Half Men have produced a tremendous amount of enthusiasm for Ashton. There were some people out there, believe it or not, who didn’t watch the show, who said, “I am so excited. I am so enthusiastic. I am going to watch the show now.” People who, for whatever reason, drifted from CSI in the past, hearing Ted Danson is coming to the show is exciting news for them. So, it’s a positive, not a negative.

Is A Gifted Man an attempt to tap into the people who shows like The Ghost Whisperer and Medium?

TASSLER: We certainly know we have an audience for shows that have that element to it. We certainly know that we have a very, very engaged fan base out there for those kinds of shows, and we think A Gifted Man will speak to that as well.

Having had so much success with spin-offs in the past, what do you think it was about Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior that didn’t connect with people?

TASSLER: I think it was specific to the show itself. I just don’t think it found its rhythm. Criminal Minds, our original show, is a phenomenal show, and all elements of that show work so well. I think that Suspect Behavior just didn’t click. I don’t think it has anything to do with spin-offs. I think a spin-off still has to be successful on its own. It can rely on the mothership to launch it, but it really has to work on its own, and I just didn’t.

nina-tassler-image-4Putting Rules of Engagement on Saturdays is a risk. What exactly are your expectations for the show, on that night?

TASSLER: Well, we had a really interesting situation coming out of our scheduling meetings this year, where we had one extra comedy, we were out of the traditional comedy time periods, and we saw Saturday night as an opportunity. Advertisers like comedies and it’s a terrific show, so we saw this as an opportunity for us.

What will your mid-season line-up look like?

TASSLER: Well, we picked up The 2-2 for midseason. We’re shooting a new pilot with Rob Schneider for midseason. We have Undercover Boss for midseason. Those are our midseason choices right now.

Have there been any early preliminary talks about David Letterman possibly stepping away from late night, down the road? And, would it be fair to say that Craig Ferguson would be one of your top choices to take that spot?

TASSLER: Well, first of all, I still think that Dave and Craig are the two best guys in late night. Dave continues to be just a legend in his own time. And, I can’t wait for people to see the French episodes, when Craig goes to Paris. He is perhaps one of the most imaginative and innovative voices in late night. But, right now, there are no updates beyond 2012.

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