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The Prime (Time) Of Nancy Tellem

She's come out of Les Moonves' shadow at CBS as a powerful player in her own right

Nancy Tellem is on her second espresso, and it's only 8:30 a.m. For the president of CBS Paramount Television Network Entertainment Group (CBS ), the days don't get more stressful than this. It's late April, and the "upfronts," in which TV networks unveil their new shows to advertisers, are three weeks away. Tellem supervises programming not only for the CBS network but also CW, the newly merged network of money-losing WB and UPN. And as head of CBS's TV studio, she's shepherding through 15 pilots for the two networks and one to be sold to Fox Broadcasting Co. (NWS ).

During the whirlwind countdown of meetings, e-mails, and urgent phone calls before the upfronts, Tellem, 53, shuttles between CBS's Television City operations in Los Angeles and its headquarters in Manhattan. Her time is filled with watching pilots and negotiating with nervous agents and studio brass. In one difficult decision, Tellem schedules CBS's long-running hit sitcom The King of Queens, to start at midseason to accommodate its star, Kevin James, who is committed to a movie project. Tellem is also preparing to cancel the ratings-challenged former WB show Everwood. Still ahead on this caffeine-fueled morning: a four-hour casting session for reality stalwart Survivor. Tellem peppers contestant hopefuls with tough questions. "Some of them know the game and will tell you what they think you want to hear," says the former litigator. "We're looking for real drama, real people."