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Warner's Domestic Back on NATPE Floor

The National Association of Television Program Executives (NATPE) will get a nice boost when Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution returns to the convention floor for the annual conference in January.

A Warner Bros. spokesperson confirmed the company's domestic division, which had been conducting business from a suite, will increase its profile at the event and join its international unit on the floor. The company has projects in development, including a new talk show with Bonnie Hunt.

“In the four and a half years that I have been here, Warner's has always given us support,” says NATPE chief Rick Feldman. “We are gratified that [Warner Bros.] domestic and international will be together on the floor in 2008 and hope it speaks to the continued relevance of our marketplace.”

The move is particularly gratifying for Feldman, given Sony Pictures Television's decision early this year to scale back its presence at the 2008 event and focus on the January Consumer Electronics Show (B&C, Jan. 22). While Sony said the shift will save $3 million and better integrate its content and electronics divisions, the company will continue to do business at NATPE from a hotel suite.

NATPE will also expand its Achilles Media-produced Mobile++ event, which Feldman calls a “crash course” in mobile content.

The 2008 NATPE conference is set for Jan. 28-31 at the Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas.

Heartburn

Media watchdog Jeff Chester has sent another note to his pen pal, PBS ombudsman Michael Getler, this time complaining about sponsorship of WNET documentary The Mysterious Human Heart by medical equipment and drug companies Medtronic and AstraZeneca.

“We believe that the involvement of these two heart-related commercial entities illustrates disturbing flaws in the PBS underwriting guidelines,” wrote Chester, charging that “serious health-related risks from Medtronic and AstraZeneca products” went unmentioned.

Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, drew a concession from PBS and WGBH series Frontline last month when he complained that Frontline's narrator had lent his voice to an advocacy video. But this time, PBS and WNET are defending the underwriters and the process.

“I understand where Jeff Chester is coming from,” said Kellie Specter, WNET's director of corporate community relations, “but we have a major firewall between underwriters and production.”

Specter says the companies got involved via a cardiologist friend of the program's producer, but that WNET's marketing department handled the underwriting. Moreover, PBS vetted and OK'd the sponsorship.

PBS VP of Communications Lea Sloan echoed Spector's “firewall” comment, saying that underwriters “have no access, they have no input, they have no influence” on content.

In an ideal world, Sloan adds, “one might find underwriters who are absolutely disinterested in the subject matter...[But] it doesn't happen very often.”

Sox Vs. Sex

The parents of Anya Epstein, supervising producer at fleshy HBO drama Tell Me You Love Me, faced a dilemma this past weekend. Epstein had the sole writing credit for Sunday's episode, her first on the series.

But instead of gathering around the TV set back home in Boston, Epstein's folks went to Denver to take in the World Series. See, Epstein's kid brother Theo is the general manager of the Boston Red Sox.

“My dad said, 'Your episode is on Sunday night, same as the game,'” she says. “I said, 'Which one are you going to watch?'”

Dad's response was pretty clear: “Thank God for HBO On Demand.”

Formerly a writer on ABC's Commander in Chief, Epstein comes from a long line of scribes. Besides her novelist father, Leslie, her grandfather and great uncle, Philip and Julius Epstein, penned Hollywood classics like Casablanca and Yankee Doodle Dandy.

“My dad warned me: 'Do anything else but be a writer,'” she says. “Theo and [brother] Paul listened. I didn't.”

With Ben Grossman, John Eggerton and Michael Malone

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