By Michael Schneider
Nina Tassler admits that there's an elephant in the room when it comes to CBS' new daytime talker.
Yes, Julie Chen is a panelist on "The Talk" -- as the show, exec produced by actress Sara Gilbert, has now been dubbed. And yes, Chen happens to be the wife of CBS CEO Leslie Moonves.
But put all that aside, Tassler told reporters Wednesday at CBS' portion of the TV Critics Assn. press tour: She's the right host for the job.
"Why should she be penalized for being married to him?" Tassler asked the reporters.
Chen actually has more hosting experience than most of "The Talk's" panelists -- which, besides Chen and Gilbert, also includes Sharon Osbourne, Leah Remini, Holly Robinson Peete and Marissa Jaret Winokur.
And Chen is a new parent -- which is part of "The Talk's" pitch as a more mommy-centric version of ABC's long-running "The View."
Tassler said Chen's involvement was actually first brought up by Gilbert, who initially pitched the show to CBS last August.
"We talked about people with profile, and Julie has a terrific reputation," Tassler said. "The bottom line is the executive producer of the show, Sara Gilbert, said, ‘What about Julie, would she be interested?'"
Tassler said CBS followed Gilbert's lead in approaching Chen -- who also hosts "Big Brother" and co-anchors "The Early Show" for the Eye. As part of the pickup, Chen will now serve as a contributor to "Early Show" but drop her day-to-day duties on the morning show.
"The truth is, I made the decision," Tassler said. "But I don't think Leslie is unhappy with the decision."
"The Talk" has gone through several iterations in its year-long development. Gilbert, whom Tassler repped as an agent 25 years ago, was inspired to pitch the show after holding a "Mommy and Me"-style gathering in her living room. The Eye offered to pay for a low-budget $25,000 Internet presentation, and then it picked up momentum from there.
Once CBS decided to cancel daytime sudser "As the World Turns," Eye opted to pilot "The Talk," along with a game/talk hybrid hosted by celeb chef Emeril Lagasse; a new take on gamer "Pyramid," fronted by Andy Richter; and a yakker hosted by Valerie Bertinelli and Australian host Rove McManus.
With such competition, one critic noted that Gilbert may have employed some savvy strategy in "hiring the CEO's wife" as a panelist.
But "The Talk" ultimately tested high both inside and outside CBS and "screened great," Tassler contended.
Asked how "The Talk" is differentiated from "The View," Tassler pointed to the hosts' points of view, as infused through their experiences as parents.
"The hosts will talk with you, not at you," said Tassler, referring to the loud cross-talk that often takes place on "The View."
Among other topics, both Tassler and the cast of "The Big Bang Theory" declined to discuss the thesps' ongoing salary renegotiations with Warner Bros. TV.
"We're feeling good that things will work out," Tassler said. "You saw how ‘Two and a Half Men' worked out."
As for "Men," Tassler said she's been promised by Warner Bros. that star Charlie Sheen's ongoing legal problems will not have any affect on production or delivery of the hit comedy.
Asked about GLAAD's recent report on gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender portrayals on TV -- which gave CBS low marks -- Tassler admitted that the Eye could do better.
"We're very disappointed in our track record so far," said Tassler, who said several LGBT characters will be added to CBS shows. "We know we can do better. We're not happy with ourselves."
Tassler was also asked to comment on Disney's decision Tuesday to ax ABC Entertainment Group prexy Steve McPherson.
"Dammit, he got out of doing press tour," Tassler quipped. Referring to McPherson's work as a winery owner, she added: "I'd like a case of chardonnay over the holidays."
And not to stir more tension with 20th Century Fox TV in the wake of their tough negotiations over "Chaos," but Tassler admitted that she preferred McPherson's wine over 20th chairman Gary Newman's bottles.
Separately, CBS announced its first round of "Undercover Boss" participants: NASCAR senior VP and CMO Steve Phelps; DirecTV chairman/CEO Mike White; Chiquita Brands chairman/CEO Fernando Aguirre; and Great Wolf Resorts CEO Kimberly Schaefer.
Also, CBS said the next edition of "Survivor" will divide tribes by ages -- pitting young vs. old contestants.
Tassler said CBS was coming off of another "terrific year" -- "but we're restless and motivated and, as I like to say, paranoid."