CBS at the TCAs: Everything is awesome, so what is there to talk about?

CBS at the TCAs: Everything is awesome, so what is there to talk about?

In a show of strength that made ABC president Paul Lee’s “Work It is Shakespeare, basically” peacocking look sort of, I don’t know, desperate, CBS president Nina Tassler pulled the ultimate power move at today’s TCA panel by nearly canceling her network’s session entirely. After all, what does CBS need from critics? It didn’t get to be on top by courting their favor—quite the opposite, really—and it answers to the heartland, who demands only the reliable drone of tidy, repetitive crime procedurals and dick jokes to soothe them after a hard day at the Jesus-truck factory. But because enough critics whined that they wouldn’t get to write sarcastic summaries like this one if she balked, Tassler relented and scheduled the CBS panel for the early-morning hours, deviously picking a time slot when she knew most TCA attendees would still be fighting hangovers and thus be too groggy to get any good digs in about ¡Rob!.

Not that she actually came out and said any of that, as our own Todd VanDerWerff—who arrived dressed in his homemade 2 Broke Girls waitress costume, not that he’d ever admit it—reports that Tassler played it humble throughout. This included referring to all of the network’s huge hits like they were plucky little underdogs, saying that she was “intimidated” by the critics, and starting her presentation by insisting that, really, she’s a very nice person. Whereupon, every attendee immediately vowed to stop making fun of her network because come on, she seems cool.

Again, not that their approval even matters: Other than mentioning that she’s glad that at least The Good Wife gets good reviews (in addition to being really, really popular with rich people), Tassler has zero concern that critics generally don’t care for CBS shows, because she’s “very proud” of all of them. And despite the barbs, they’ve all run for years and will continue to do so, as even their reruns best the new stuff on other networks. It’s not broke so they’re not going to fix it, in other words, as CBS is content to let shows like NCIS run until Mark Harmon dies, or technology advances to where they can clone Mark Harmon.

So without any problems to address or any new shows to announce (Who needs ‘em?), Tassler mostly just talked about what CBS gets right and why it is awesome. “Strong storytelling. Problem-solving. Mysteries,” Tassler rattled off as she enumerated all the things that they look for in shows and that old people like. “That being said, audiences need to engage with characters,” Tassler added, allowing that her procedurals’ indistinguishable detective ciphers all need to have some sort of personality and/or history of a drinking problem or something, just so they seem recognizably human. This, in addition to a “core morality” that distinguishes them from the goat-slaughtering pagans having sex with intestines on, say, Fox.

As for the broad comedies that sometimes push that “core morality” with a bunch of easy sex jokes and, in the case of 2 Broke Girls, racist caricatures, Tassler admitted that in the latter case, at least, they kind of agree, noting that they’ve asked creator Michael Patrick King to maybe develop—or "dimensionalize"—them beyond hacky stereotypes. Still, “They’re an equal opportunity offender; everybody gets their digs,” Tassler said, pointing out the obvious equivalency between mocking Korean immigrants and Brooklyn hipsters, because we’re all just colors in the rainbow. Besides, their comedies are “laugh-out-loud funny,” with Tassler going so far as to describe people actually “belly-laughing”—the most American laughter there is, as opposed to the smarmy, repressed hums that issue forth from the lips of critics while they watch their precious Community

On the drama side, they’re pleased with the additions of A Gifted Man (which is performing adequately enough not to cancel, though they haven’t made any official decisions yet) and especially the top-rated Person Of Interest, which Tassler repeatedly compared to the likes of Batman by referring to Taraji P. Henson’s character as “sort of the Commissioner Gordon” and noting that “Jonah Nolan has a great deal of talent within the graphic novel space,” whatever that means. It certainly sounds like something! They’re also looking forward to Richard Price’s midseason cop drama The 2-2, which has been renamed NYC 22 since everyone started calling it The Tutu, and also as a nod to it being the 22nd show about New York City cops to air during the week. 

Wrapping things up by musing about the future, Tassler mentioned that they’re still trying to find the “right companion” for “monster hit” The Big Bang Theory, which is so amazing that everything that follows it withers in comparison. To that end, she also promised that they’ve got some “really unique, clever ideas” for the fall—“all of which will be tossed aside in favor of crime dramas,” Todd writes in his notes, being a cynical jerk here even though Tassler already said she’s a really nice person. Fortunately for Tassler, running CBS means she doesn’t have to listen to the likes of Todd.