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TV Column: Amid debate on gun violence, network executives plead not guilty

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PASADENA, Calif. — In Washington, a federal task force — charged with finding ways to curb gun violence — might be listening to weapon lobbyists and Hollywood suits explain their lack of responsibility for recent mass slayings. But here out west in Dottyville on the Pacific, TV critics played “Let’s Blame ‘Criminal Minds’ ” with network suits at Winter TV Press Tour 2013.

“It’s a much-maligned show,” CBS programming chief Nina Tassler told TV critics Saturday of her network’s show, which had undergone days of lashing at the tour.

“I happen to enjoy the show,” Tassler said. “It’s not for everybody — it’s an adult show.” Since the fall of ’05, the procedural crime drama has followed a fictitious team of profilers from the FBI’s Quantico-based Behavioral Analysis Unit.

“It’s a suspense thriller and, within that, it’s also a character crime procedural. It’s given an appropriate rating,” Tassler said.

“I don’t let my (14-year-old) kid watch it,” she added for good measure.

It’s also the show that, right before the third season, abruptly lost its star, Mandy Patinkin. Years later, he said he bailed on the series because “I never thought they were going to kill and rape all these women every night, every day, week after week, year after year. It was very destructive to my soul and my personality.”

The “Criminal Minds” motif was introduced early in the press tour during a Q&A with NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt, who knew he would be working at a disadvantage, having two serial-killer dramas to his credit.

“I think ‘Criminal Minds’ is worse than ‘Dexter’ ever was,” he said of his first serial-killer series, which he developed when he ran programming at Showtime.

“There’s a lot of violence around [‘Hannibal’], but you don’t see a lot of acts of violence — you see people who have been murdered,” he added of the upcoming NBC serial-killer drama, based on the Hannibal Lecter franchise.

“I think we’re making a huge mistake — and I’d say it to Bob, to his face — to let any of the conversation [about the role of TV and gun violence] devolve into ‘My show versus your show,’ ” Tassler said testily when she appeared at the tour.

“This is a much bigger issue,” she said of the current debate over what responsibility Hollywood might bear for the recent slaying of 20 elementary schoolchildren and seven adults in Newton, Conn., and last summer’s shooting of a dozen moviegoers in Aurora, Colo.

Tassler has no serial-killer shows on her slate, but CBS might have the highest body count of any broadcast network. Her prime time is littered with murder-of-the-week procedural crime dramas, which tend to repeat very well. Armed with this lineup, CBS is the country’s most watched television network.

“They’re very different programs,” CW President Mark Pedowitz told TV critics Sunday, of “Criminal Minds” vs. “Dexter.”

Pedowitz is the guy who developed “Criminal Minds” when he was running the TV production division at ABC’s parent, Disney. Pedowitz is also the guy who next month will debut the drama series “Cult,” about two hot young people who investigate whether fans of a TV series called “Cult” are re-creating crimes committed on the program.

You know, kind of like how that young California boy now on trial for killing his neo-Nazi dad in May of ’11 has said he was influenced by an episode of “Criminal Minds,” in which a boy killed his abusive father and was not arrested, according to press reports of the trial.

But when one TV critic asked the “Cult” creators whether the series is attributing “a certain amount of causality, of TV and movies, and certain behavior,” executive producer Len Goldstein hastened to explain that the series is not. Rather, he said, it’s posing “questions more than answers. . . . We’re asking.”

Pedowitz is not moving forward with a series based on the Japanese cult-novel-turned-film “Battle Royale. ” Last summer, Pedowitz confirmed a leaked report that he was developing a series about high school students who are dropped onto an island and told to kill each other; the last one standing wins. He clarified that it was a “Battle Royale” phone call and that there was no “in development” — though, he said, he’d love to do the TV-series adaptation.

“We are not planning on doing anything with ‘Battle Royale.’ . . . Nothing occurred. There was nothing to talk about. And it predated the current events. So there was no development — nothing happened,” he explained.

A series based on Kiera Cass’s young adult novel “The Selection,” on the other hand, is in development. He said that he’s just seen the pilot script and that it was “very well done.” That project has been described as “The Bachelor” meets “Hunger Games.”

A couple of days before Tassler played a round of “Let’s Blame ‘Criminal Minds,’ ” ABC Entertainment Chairman Paul Lee told TV critics: “Our job is always to get a sense of what the culture is feeling.” He assured them that his operation’s standards are “more stringent than our competitors.”

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