Rolling the Dice at NATPE

Playing the angles, Vegas-style

NATPE lives! Industry consolidation, technological advances, bad programs and a worse economy nearly killed the syndicated-programming fair a couple of years ago, but last week in Las Vegas, there was something that sounded almost like buzz again.

“NATPE is back,” says John Weiser, the convention's co-chairman and distribution president for Sony Pictures Television. Attendees throughout the day would exit the Mandalay Bay convention center, surprised that the floor seemed to be shoulder to shoulder with attendees. Cable product is being shopped to international outlets (it used to be the other way around) and now U.S. reality-television producers are both buyers and sellers on the world market. Example: NBC Universal has sold Queer Eye for the Straight Guy reruns in 120 countres, and a dozen foreign TV outlets make their own.

NATPE organizers aren't giving a final count until next week, but it's sure to beat last year's 7,000 attendees, perhaps by 1,000. (As recently as 2001, NATPE added up over 20,000 attendees.)

And yet a lot didn't happen. Sony Pictures Television left NATPE without a launch group for Howard Stern sidekick Robin Quivers' talk show, but Weiser says there is plenty of interest and that two large station groups are tempted. Fox, UPN and WB stations are primarily targets, he says, and, in more than a dozen markets, stations are playing with the idea of pairing Quivers with Maury as a lead-out.

Sony did close deals for off-Oxygen reality show Girls Behaving Badly. The show, a weekend barter deal, is cleared in nine of the top 10 markets and on the WB 100+ station group.

Also waiting for take-off is financial talker Suze Orman—who spent NATPE explaining that she's about how money interesects with lifestyles, not giving advice on 401(k) plans, dammit! Twentieth Television President Bob Cook seems determined to keep selling the show rather than fold the tent. Fox Stations didn't pick up Orman, raising some eyebrows, but News Corp. Deputy COO and stations Chairman Lachlan Murdoch said his stations “have a responsibility to take the show we think will work best.”

What to do and where to do it

So some shows were left hanging. That's not so unusual. Syndicators close many of their sales either before NATPE, so the new show comes to the show with momentum. Or sales come after, when station-group brass compare notes and make their choices.

Still several current shows were on the bubble list— neither canned or renewed. Those include Sony's Life & Style and Pat Croce: Movin' In, Twentieth's Texas Justice and Good Day Live, Warner Bros.' The Larry Elder Show, and NBC Universal's The Jane Pauley Show. Decisions about those could force decisions about some other shows, too.

The Pauley indecision may be keeping stations groups that signed two-year contracts for it from knowing what to do, or where to do it. NBC Universal Television Distribution Executive Vice President Frederick Huntsberry said he wasn't sure Pauley would be back but cited recent audience growth and indicated that there will be no decision until after the February sweeps.

One show that did seem to pop to life on the NATPE floor was Home Team, a kind of lite version of Extreme Makeover: Home Editon, hosted by Troy McClain (whose previous claim to near fame was as the sweet, street-smart contestant on the first edition of The Apprentice). Big crowds may have been more interested in McClain than in the show, but NATPE today is not the place you'll see a lot of major talent wandering around. One exception was Tyra Banks, who packed the Warner Bros. suite on Monday and Tuesday.

Some green lights

Four of six major new first-run strips emerged from NATPE with early green lights: A Current Affair (Twentieth, clearance in 45% of the country), Judge Alex (Twentieth, 73%), The Martha Stewart Show (NBC Universal, 70%) and The Tyra Banks Show (Warner Bros, 70%).

Banks can thank the Fox Television Stations Group, which stepped up as a launch group, clearing the talker in 19 of its 25 markets. Her show may be a particularly good fit for Fox-owned UPN stations.

Last year, five programs were greenlighted by the end of NATPE: The Jane Pauley Show (95%), The Insider (90%), Home Delivery (70%), Ambush Makeover (70%), The Tony Danza Show (over 50%). A typical year of hits and misses.

For some, NATPE creates little anxiety. Going into NATPE, King World had cleared The Oprah Winfrey Show in 93% of the country through 2011 and Dr. Phil in 85% through 2009. Nice work if you can get it.

Big Deals
Sales of major syndicators' new first-run shows at NATPE
The Martha Stewart ShowNBC Universal70%NBC O&Os
The Tyra Banks ShowWarner Bros.70%19 of 25 Fox markets
Judge AlexTwentieth73%All Fox O&Os
Suze OrmanTwentieth0No deals announced
A Current AffairTwentieth45%All Fox O&Os
Robin QuiversSony0No deals announced