CBS entertainment president Nina Tassler is known for having one of the better deadpan senses of humor in the TV business. So when her press tour session (Fienberg has a full recap in his liveblog) opened with a question about "Two and a Half Men" star Charlie Sheen's latest widely-publicized shenanigans, it wasn't surprising - but was still funny - when she replied, "Boy, I really didn't expect that question this morning. So I'm really taken by surprise."
Tassler's response to the question was prepared, but it was also remarkably frank:
"On a very basic human level, (there's) concern of course. This man is a father, he has children, he has a family, so obviouslly there's concern on a personal level. But you can't look at it simplistically. Charlie's a professional, he comes to work, he does his job extremely well. As I said, it's very complicated. But we have a very good relationship with (the show's studio) Warner Bros. I have tremendous trust and respect with the way they're managing the situation. On a personal level, very concerned. On a professional level, he does his job, he does it well, the show is a hit. That's all I have to say."
And that's really what it comes down to. CBS knows its biggest star is a complete wreck of a human being, but he shows up for work, and the audience seems untroubled in the slightest, based on the lack of any significant ratings erosion. And so long as the show isn't affected, they'll let the rest slide.
(It's here that everyone involved is fortunate that Sheen is playing so close to type. If he were cast as Charles Ingalls in a 21st century version of "Little House on the Prairie" and then getting into trouble for allegedly assaulting a porn star, the public would feel betrayed. But it's Charlie Sheen, playing a role not far removed from his public persona. What else do people expect?)
Tassler's response to the Sheen question was typical for the whole session, which clocked in at a remarkably brisk 23 minutes, the shortest network executive Q&A I can remember in a long time. It's not that CBS PR pulled her because they didn't like where the questions were going, but that we ran out of things to ask. CBS is the most-watched network on TV, but it's not a sexy network, news-wise - and has no interest in being so - and so Tassler shut down any potential storylines with ease.
Mark Harmon's "NCIS" contract is almost up? "It's kind of the nature of the business," she shrugged, confident a new deal would get done.
Reporters want specific thoughts on bubble shows? "Everything's up for grabs in May," she said non-committally.
Will the Thursday arrival of "American Idol" hurt "Big Bang Theory"? "'Idol' is 'Idol.' It's a force of nature," and, "There are enough eyeballs to go around. We think we'll do ok."
Finally, the room (also tired on the last full day of press tour) just gave up, and the session ended abruptly - no fuss, no muss, virtually no controversy, even involving Charlie Sheen.
Everything: TCA Press Tour
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