CBS Exec: A Broadcast Network Can Win in the End, Even as TV Evolves

Nina Tassler on content ownership and multiple platforms

A few days after FX's John Landgraf sounded a warning bell that "too much television" is being made, a top exec at CBS said the network is well positioned to continue to draw viewers—and make money—no matter how the industry evolves in years to come. 

The network's ownership of several of its shows is "key" and "puts us in a really prime position in terms of monetizing across the board," said Nina Tassler, CBS Entertainment chairman, who spoke at the Television Critics Association's summer press tour. "Whatever the future of our business is … CBS will be represented in all these conversations."

Demand for the network's programming "is high on all platforms," Tassler said. The Good Wife is a top show on iTunes and is also one of the network's strongest shows on VOD. Scorpion adds 6 million viewers through other platforms, bringing its overall audience to 16 million.

"We want to be wherever people want to watch," Tassler said. "[As content owners], we get paid for all of this." So, even as audiences start to shift away from watching TV live, "as long as we continue to monetize, which we are, there is no concern that there are less people watching television," she said. "More people are watching CBS now [across all platforms] than were watching 11 years ago."

And because viewers are still watching and the network is successfully monetizing those viewers, "we still win at the end," said Tassler.

Tassler, who is preparing to debut five new shows this fall, said, "I love the environment in which these shows will launch." She noted that three of the series—Limitless, Life in Pieces and Code Black—will debut in September, while two others, Supergirl and Angel From Hell, will launch in late October or early November, allowing all five shows to benefit from "focused scheduling and promotion."

The network's splashiest fall debut, Supergirl, has "broad appeal" that will bring in new viewers as well as appeal to CBS fans. "She was imminently relatable, and the journey they were taking the character on just spoke to where today's generation is," said Tassler.

While there aren't yet plans to allow Supergirl characters to cross over on Arrow and The Flash—DC Comics shows which are also produced by Greg Berlanti and air on CBS' sister network, The CW—Tassler said, "We are doing promotional crossovers."

In addition to its five scripted series, one of the network's major tasks this fall will be launching The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on Sept. 8. "It's a complete transformation, in only nine months, for CBS late night," said Tassler. "We think the future looks very bright."

Launching a new 11:30 p.m. show on CBS is "a once-in-a-generation moment, and we definitely think Stephen is a once-in-a-generation talent," said Tassler. From his successful network debut at May's upfront to his summer promos and podcasts, "[Colbert] brings nonstop creative energy and intelligence to every part of the process."

While David Letterman owned both Late Show and Late Late Show via his Worldwide Pants production company, CBS will, for the first time, own and produce both of its late-night shows. "We will own, not rent," Tassler said.

As for Late Late Show host James Corden, Tassler said, "He and the show have blown past our expectations." Tassler also likes that both hosts "enjoy playing in the digital space." In late night, "ratings are important, but your digital footprint" is now vital, she said.

Reflecting on a summer when many scripted series have struggled, Tassler said, "We're happy with our summer strategy" and pointed out that Zoo is the top-rated scripted series this summer, with Under the Dome at No. 2 and Extant at No. 4. Those summer series also "stream very well," she said.

The network's controversial summer reality show, The Briefcase, however, will "probably not be back," Tassler said. "The show didn't land. … That happens."