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CBS faces TV critics unwilling to talk about biggest fall TV story: Charlie Sheen, Aston Kutcher and Two and Half Men

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August

kutcher-cbs.jpgLOS ANGELES -- It's not unusual for network executives to get in front of an audience at the TV Critics press tour and refuse to talk about the biggest stories they are embroiled in.

But CBS entertainment president Nina Tassler must have set a new record for question dodging this morning, shrugging off queries about the massive scandal that saw star Ashton Kutcher replace star Charlie Sheen on the network's most successful comedy show, Two and Half Men.

Indeed, Tassler shucked off inquiries like Wonder Woman batting away bullets with her bracelets, explaining that CBS would offer no press conference here on the show because Kutcher & Co were working. But, as a roomful of groaning critics countered, many new shows are in production or starting production this week, but still find time to break bread with journalists.

"Literally, it's baby steps," admitted Tassler after the press session. "There's still a lot of discovery going on. It's still a very delicate situation, and I think you have to respect that its unique."

What she would reveal: Kutcher's character name is Walden Schmidt, an Internet billionaire with a broken heart, introduced in a two-part episode over two weeks. Tassler also implied he wouldn't be related to the other characters like Sheen's Charlie Harper, but that was unclear.

kutchercbs2.jpg"Our whole focus right now is moving forward," said Tassler, who wouldn't even confirm or deny whether Sheen's Harper would be dead at the start of the second season, which would open on his funeral, as has been rumored.

The blog Deadline Hollywood Daily has reported that the funeral for Sheen's character will allow cameos by other celebrities and past girlfriends from the show, but Tassler wasn't dishing: "The mystery is part of the marketing of it."

Later, she talked about the first taping when the new cast gathered, noting that executive producer Chuck Lorre and co-star Jon Cryer both spoke to the cast. "When you hear that first actor read that first line, you breathe a sigh of relief."

danson-csi-.jpgOn other fronts, Tassler said the network chose former Cheers star Ted Danson to take over for Laurence Fishburne on CSI because  "he's a huge TV star, he's got tremendous charisma...when his name came up, we jumped at it. We went with the best actor who was available."

The name for Danson's character, a leader imported from Portland, Ore,. is D.B. Russell: "(Fishburne's) character...had big shoes to fill. Ironically, you look at how the team was when Langston came, he sort of churned things up and set the stage for D.B. Russell. He has to really reconnect the team, bring them back together and still assert his authority."

The new top management at CBS News joined new anchor Scott Pelley to face critics this morning and insist that their hard news approach on the show is drawing ratings, promising that they will not pay money to news sources for video and pictures as a way of securing exclusive interviews and maintaining that an opinion-free report is key to their success. "We know who we are," said Pellley, "and that's not who we are."

Pelley also recalled that former anchor Dan Rather, ousted after a report on then-President George W. Bush's National Guard service went horribly wrong, sent the first congratulations after his first broadcast as anchor, in a signature gray envelope. "I hate that it ended so badly (with Rather)," he added.

But the best line of the morning cane from Tassler. Asked a second time about whether Sheen taught her anything , perhaps setting policies for hiring an actor known for erratic behavior, Tassler cracked her best joke. "That would be every actor working in Hollywood."

[Last modified: Friday, August 5, 2011 6:51pm]

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