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12 to Watch: Nancy Tellem

Jan 29, 2007  •  Post A Comment

CBS Paramount Network Television Entertainment Group President Tellem has a luxury problem: Her network is currently No. 1 in viewers and No. 1 in adults 18 to 49, and has a schedule so packed with ratings-generating shows there’s only one midseason slot that could currently use filling.

So what’s the problem? A lack of buzz, of critical acclaim-accolades that are not strictly necessary, but would be nice to have.

“It’s frustrating because we feel we have the quality programming on CBS but it doesn’t get the buzz that other programming does,” Ms. Tellem said. “We would like to see the critics embrace our shows, but ultimately the viewers really count. We would like both, to tell you the truth.”

CBS has ordered several pilots aimed at gaining more attention-one show is about open marriage, another about an exorcist-but the network will still have to balance the expectations of its sizable audience.

The new shows will attempt to lessen the network’s reliance on procedurals, which some critics say overpopulate the CBS schedule. Crime dramas have experienced ratings erosion in off-network cable repeats, and some veteran series on CBS have had modest drain as well. The network is wary of being in position similar to where NBC was a few years ago, when overconfidence in aging franchises gave way to a ratings crash.

But CBS’s biggest breakout series this year is a classic procedural, “Criminal Minds,” which suggests it may be too early to ease back from the format.

“We always get asked, `When is it enough?”‘ Ms. Tellem said of procedurals. “It’s enough when our viewers say it’s enough.”

Ms. Tellem has also been charged with bolstering various divisions within CBS Corp., which was spun off from Viacom last January.

During the past year CBS Corp. has made deals with wireless companies such as Verizon, and revived the CBS Records label. The label will be charged with helping to find new music for shows on CBS and The CW, which often have to pay steep licensing fees to use popular songs for background content.

“It’s a win-win if we can save our producers some money and find new artists that … could result in a hit coming out of a hit coming out of CBS Records,” Ms. Tellem said.

The company also has a partnership with YouTube to distribute clips from its shows. Ms. Tellem said the company is open to the idea of finding similar distribution agreements for its clips, perhaps on sites such as Yahoo or Google.

“Having exposure to that younger demo has been incredibly important to us,” she said. “We’re certainly open to having other similar relationships.”