CBS's Nina Tassler Reveals Why She Put Down 'Smith' Like A Sickly Dog

Today's NY Times uses the example of Smith, the quickly dispatched CBS drama whose birth/death cycle was an impressively efficient three weeks, to illustrate how the itchy trigger-fingers of jittery, hit-hungry TV executives seem to have doomed the on-air existence of TV's "modest successes," shows that fall somewhere between total Nielsen bed-shitters and instant, inexplicable, Deal or No Deal-type hits. But after hearing CBS head executioner Nina Tassler dissect the reasons she dispassionately strangled the show with a piece of piano wire, Smith sounds less like a "modest success" than a "show that people checked out once or twice, then decided they weren't interested in." Reports the Times:

"When you launch a new show, you certainly want it to retain a certain percentage of its lead-in," [Tassler" said. "You also want it to build in the second half hour, and we really weren't doing that with 'Smith.' "

In its first week, 11 million, or 93 percent, of the 11.8 million viewers of "The Unit" stuck around for the first episode of "Smith." In the second week, that percentage fell to 81 percent, then plummeted to 63 percent in the third week.

Not only was "Smith" keeping less of its lead-in audience, but a shrinking portion of the previous week's viewers returned each week to see the next installment of "Smith." And the number of viewers also fell consistently from the first half hour to the second. [...]

"We have a unique vantage point at the network," she said. "I've seen cuts and read scripts for the next four to five episodes, so I could see where we're headed creatively. And we weren't 100 percent happy with what we were looking at."

Specifically, she said, the show's scripts were becoming harder to follow. "You have to have clarity in the story-telling," she said. "Confusion kills. I think it was particularly challenged in that area."

Citing the series' rapidly declining Nielsens probably would have been justification enough for her decision, but feeling suddenly liberated by the candor that programming executives rarely share with the press, Tassler followed up her opinion on the needless, syndication-hampering complexity of Smith's scripts by remarking, "For 2.5 million per episode, you'd think they could have edible craft service when the head of the network visits, you know? I had the runs for weeks. Weeks!" and that "in high-def, Ray Liotta's face was a little much to take."