TCA Summer Press Tour 2014: CBS sessions turn testy

cbs_logoEven though many people view CBS’ primetime time lineup with about as much excitement as watching an ice cube melt, their TCA Press Tour presentations are something different entirely.

There were a lot of people here on the hot seat, including CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler and Dawson’s Creek creator, Kevin Williamson, whose new show (Stalker) drew the wrath of critics.

Executive session: This was a surprisingly tense session, with network chief Nina Tassler defending her network’s efforts on diversity. Many critics – some who view The Church Of Tisch with disdain – slammed the network for its fall lineup, with entirely white casts (in other words, CBS’ fall lineup looks more like Crystal Lake than Hyde Park.) Tassler pointed out new summer series Extant with Halle Berry as the lead, and Lucy Liu of Elementary. And she pointed out another show (The Talk) whose panelists are racially diverse.

Earlier in the press tour, ABC Entertainment President Paul Lee and Starz’ Chris Albericht talked about diversity, each with different takes (oddly enough, when penny-pinching fool Laurence Tisch was ruining CBS, the casts of the shows were actually more diverse.)

In other news, Tassler believes the five principal cast members of The Big Bang Theory will soon reach newdeals soon, before shooting resumes in July. She had little to say about the network’s late-night plans with David Letterman and Craig Ferguson departing (the latter she has yet to find a replacement for) and Stephen Colbert retiring.

Onto the shows: First up was Madam Secretary, a new drama starring Tea Leoni as the new Secretary of State, facing battles in the world and (wait for it) at home. Leoni and producer Morgan Freeman were on the panel, in addition to exec producer Lori McCreary, who said the inspiration for Madam Secretary came from the time Hilary Clinton was in the position and Benghazi. The reason why Leoni returned to TV after such a long time off? Her kids turning 12 and 15 respectively, and yeah, they’re kind of sick of her hanging around the house.

Next drama up on the panel was CSI: New Orleans… oops, I mean NCIS: New Orleans. Mark Harmon of the mothership was at the panel, and he’s helping launch the show: “I’m here to help” said Harmon to reporters at TCA. NCIS: New Orleans stars Scott Bakula (Quantum Leap) as the special agent in charge of the NCIS local office.

Up next was Scorpion, which takes the Monday 9 p.m. (ET) slot this fall, marking the first non-sitcom to occupy the time period in get this – 64 years. Inspired by a true story, Scorpion is a drama about eccentric genius Walter O’Brien and his team of brilliant misfits who comprise the last line of defense against complex, high-tech threats of the modern age (whatever that means.) Notes exec producer Nick Santora: “It’s a Fun-Cedural.” (Huh?) This is basically The Big Bang Theory – if it were a drama.

CBS trotted out its NFL crew for its new Thursday Night Football games, which begins September 11. Network honcho Les Moonves hopes the league extends the network’s contract beyond one year.“We knew going in this was a one-year deal,” Moonves said.“It’s our job to show the NFL what we can do. And we’re confident they’re going to feel like CBS did a tremendous job; we’re confident after this year is over they’ll sit down and hopefully give us a longer deal than that.”

Joining Moonves on stage was commissioner Roger Goodell, who defended the league’s position on player safety, and CBS Sports exec Sean McManus, saying its up to the announcers if they want to say the name “Redskins”, which has generated a firestorm of controversy since some say the name of D.C.’s football team is racially insensitive.

But the most tense moment during the day came during the Stalker panel. Creator Kevin Williamson wound up vigorously defending his new drama, especially the opening scene of the pilot, a man, presumably a stalker, sets a woman on fire in her car. Williamson said his show “doesn’t cross a line”, regarding the show’s constant violence. “We all could be stalkers; we’ve all stalked someone at one time,” Williamson said. “How many times when we’ve broken up with someone, when we were young, and we had to drive by their house just to see who’s parked in their driveway? You know, you’re stalking.”

His comments riled up the audience, especially women. Williamson’s response? “Turn the channel”, which is the perhaps the worst way to pitch a show to the public. All I have to do is look at his Twitter feed and you can see why the radio and TV business continue to hire idiots whose IQ is below 50.

At a time when violence is gripping urban cities like Chicago – which had 80 people shot one weekend, mind you – do we really need shock shows like this? And you wonder why the broadcast networks’ dramas don’t get Emmy nominations. But people in the entertainment industry don’t give a crap (ask Kenya Moore) as long as they make a buck off the communities who suffer from violence.

And because of Stalker, the annoying Parents Television Council have the FCC complaint forms ready to file and the even more annoying Rev. Michael Pfleger is planning a protest in front of The Church Of Tisch headquarters even as I speak. Stalker isn’t a drama, it’s trailer park Trash TV.

Golden Age Of Drama my ass.

– Two other CBS panels took place: one for new Thursday night comedy The McCarthys and the other for Battle Creek, a police drama created by Breaking Bad’s Vince Gilligan.