CBS is the network that probably closest adheres to tradition both in the development process and scheduling, rolling virtually its entire fall lineup during premiere week. So it is not surprising that CBS is not running to jump in with Fox in discarding pilot season. “Pilot season isn’t perfect; it certainly is a very difficult time, frustrating but it is also exciting,” CBS’ Nina Tassler said this morning during the network’s TCA session in response to Fox chairman Kevin Reilly’s announcement Monday that the network will bypass pilot season going forward. Tassler quoted a study about how working under pressure in great time constraints with a sense of urgency creates a creative adrenaline that is very productive. She also brought up success pilot stories like The Big Bang Theory and CSI, though she talked about the benefits of doing a pilot — like was the case with Big Bang — reworked and recast after the pilot came in a little rough. That is actually an argument Reilly used in his pitch for dumping the pressure-cooker pilot season for a model where promising but imperfect pilots and new series are given more time for course-correction through tweaking and recasting. “Pilot season does work for us, it’s not perfect,” Tassler said. “You cannot make those broad generalizations (about abandoning pilot season). Maybe for them (Fox) it is challenging, but for us it is part of the process that works.” Like Fox, CBS has been mixing things up with direct-to-series orders, like last summer’s breakout Under The Dome, which was ordered off scripts and a bible, and the upcoming Extant and Battle Creek.
Tassler also defended the serialized, limited-run-style dramas despite complaints about Under The Dome’s creative direction and the soft ratings performance of Hostages. “When a show does not for whatever reason take off, you can’t (blame it on the form),” Tassler said. “We felt there were a lot of great elements to (Hostages), I think we had a terrific cast, all really well done… Monday night is a tough night all around, it’s difficult to give an absolute answer.”
Tassler also was “really excited about getting back into limited event series world,” pointing to the recent green light to miniseries The Dovekeepers, from The Bible‘s producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey. Asked why CBS pulled the plug on its only existing longform franchise, Jesse Stone with Tom Selleck, which is moving to Hallmark Channel, she said, “It’s really about creating new economic models, certainly Under The Dome opened the door for us. Control distribution on Dovekeepers, (which is based on a book from corporate sibling Simon & Schuster), and creating a financial structure that allows you to produce that kind of programming.”
Asked about her boss Leslie Moonves’ push to get advertisers to pay beyond Live+3 viewing, suggesting 30-day window following the premiere airing should be monetized, Tassler quipped, “Whatever Leslie wants, Leslie gets.”