Q&A: New CBS Entertainment President on Comedy, Reality TV and What Won't Change

Michael Schneider
Survivor
CBS

Survivor fans, take heart: One of your own is the new CBS boss.

CBS announced Tuesday that Glenn Geller will take over as CBS Entertainment President, overseeing the network's primetime, daytime and latenight lineups. Geller replaces CBS Entertainment chairman Nina Tassler, who is exiting her position at the end of the year after 11 years atop the Eye Network.

Geller is also a long-time CBS vet, having been with the network since 2001. Most recently, he was the executive vice president for current programming at both CBS and CBS Television Studios, which meant he handled the network's and studio's day-to-day oversight of their ongoing series like NCIS and The Big Bang Theory.

CBS Executive, Glenn GellerWe spoke with Geller on his first official day in the new job to find out what he had in store for CBS, and whether viewers will notice any changes to what they see. A Midwestern native with an unabashed love for reality TV, Geller is eager to jump into the new position. Here's an edited transcript of that conversation.

How will you approach the job as entertainment president? What will your focus be in the beginning?
Geller: CBS is a very stable place. It’s mostly the same team members, we’ve all been here a long time. Not a lot will change, probably less so than some people think. What I’m looking for is not that much of a surprise. I want a comedy hit, I want a new drama hit and I want a reality hit. Whether homegrown from our own studio or from outside suppliers, we need to find new hits.

Comedy is also challenged at the networks. You still have Big Bang Theory, but your comedy footprint has shrunk. How much of a focus will that be?
Geller: I don’t want to pass up an opportunity to praise Mom, entering its third season. It couldn’t be doing better creatively. What they’re doing on Mom we should be doing on every comedy we have. I want to find shows of that quality, that have mass, broad appeal. I think we have the potential in Life in Pieces and Angel from Hell, both of which have wonderful casts, strong hooks and are very promotable.

CBS hasn't had much luck with single camera comedy, but you're trying to crack the form once again this fall.
Geller: Funny is funny. Whether single-cam or multi-cam, the audience will respond to what they think is funny. We think both of our single-camera comedies this year are fantastic, and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t work on our air.

The late night transition just took place, so it appears like that won’t take up much of your time. Daytime also seems to be in fine shape, allowing you, I assume, to focus on primetime.
Geller: Yes, both dayparts are very stable. Clearly we had successful launches of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and The Late Late Show with James Corden, those shows are creatively doing so well. Daytime continues to be No. 1. I look forward to more growth there.

What’s your TV diet?
Geller: In terms of reality, I have never missed a season of Big Brother and I’ve watched Survivor from the beginning, even before I joined CBS. I watch all the Real Housewives shows. I really enjoyed Celebrity Family Feud this year. I like to sample a lot of things, and my tastes are wide and varied. I want to find a reality show that would really speak to our audience, something that has the kind of spirit of The Amazing Race but also speaks to our core viewers. We’re really good at putting on procedurals. So I’d like to find something that feels like a good fit, with energy, taste and suspense but also in that reality framework.

Let’s ask the classic start-of-the-fall-season question: what new show do you covet from another network?
Geller: [Laughs] I’m not going to answer that right now. I think it’s too soon. I will covet whatever becomes a huge hit.

These are highly visible jobs. Are you ready for the limelight?
Geller: Every job has a lot of positives and negatives. I’m not uncomfortable doing that part of the job, I’m a little bit of a showman myself. I may not quite be Nina, but I’m looking forward to it.

This was another smooth transition of power inside CBS. How did you guys pull that off?
Geller: It’s funny, some people say there’s no change ever at CBS. But that’s actually not true. We’ve had people come and go through the comedy, drama and reality ranks and even in our leadership. But in general we are a stable place, there’s no doubt about it. We’ve all worked together for a long time and I think we’ll continue to work together for a long time and be successful.

How did you first learn that Nina was departing, and that you were next in line?
Geller: Two months ago Nina told me we were having a meeting with Leslie Moonves. So we had the meeting, and then Les told me that Nina was leaving at the end of the year. I was shocked, of course. But then they were smiling at me. I said, “What the hell is going on?” It was awkward. Les looked at me and said, “You’re the next president of CBS Entertainment!” It was shocking and great, and an amazing moment. But I couldn’t believe that Nina was going.

Funny that you weren’t actually asked if you wanted the job. When Leslie Moonves wants you to be the head of CBS Entertainment, you are the head of CBS Entertainment.
Geller: Yeah, it wasn’t a question, it was a statement. But I would have said yes regardless.

Your background is as a current executive, a position that’s not as flashy–but it’s the job that helps keep veteran shows on course. How will that prepare you for the CBS presidency?
Geller: The current department does the day-to-day work of really helping to keep these shows on the air. Working with the showrunners and rolling up your sleeves on a day-to-day basis. So while development always had a little more of a prestigious cache, there is a lot of work that always happened on the other side of the hallway, in the current department.

What’s the message to viewers who want to know whether this will impact what they see on the screen?
Geller: We have the most stable lineup of any network, and that will continue. I want all five of these new shows to work. They really belong on our air and they fit with our brand. I think the audience will respond to them. My roots are very Midwestern, I have fairly conservative tastes, and I don’t think our audience is going to see a lot of change in terms of what they would expect to find on CBS, which is quality programming.