No time for galas or gabbing

When tragedy strikes, RTNDA cancels convention, and cable forgets about its 'Hell Week'

Cable executives couldn't do anything about the hell downtown, but they did move to cancel the industry's annual "Hell Week" in New York City.

Hell Week, cable's string of annual conferences, seminar and trade-association meetings, was just part of the TV-industry events disrupted by the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. The Emmys were delayed. The Radio-Television News Directors Association ended its annual convention because Nashville, Tenn., was suddenly not where its members needed to be.

The big New York event to be canceled was the annual Walter Kaitz Foundation fund-raising dinner, cable's biggest social event, whose 1,800 or so attendees typically include the industry's biggest hitters. The gala itself raises some $1.6 million for the cause, and because the foundation, which promotes minority hiring in cable, draws so many industry players to town, all sorts of cable groups schedule events around it.

It didn't take long Tuesday for cable executives to figure out that problems with travel, security and taste dictated that just about everything be canceled. CTAM scrapped a planned lunch seminar. Kagan Media halted a seminar on cable investing midway. The Satellite Broadcast Communications Association called off its semi-annual SkyForum seminar.

Court TV Chairman Henry Schleiff was in the dentist's chair when news of the World Trade Center attack broke. He nevertheless went to a Times Square hotel to appear on a panel at the National Association of Minorities in Communications an hour later. But attendees were transfixed by television rather than by minorities in television.

After a discussion with panelist Robert Sachs, president of the National Cable Television Association, NAMIC officials pulled the plug on the final two days of their three-day conference. "I've got to get out of here," said Sachs.

"It was such a Kafka-like day," said Schleiff, who had been booked on a flight to Los Angeles that afternoon, precisely the kind of long-distance flight the terrorists had hijacked that morning. "Thank God, my flight wasn't earlier."

Members of the Radio-Television News Directors Association board and staff—those who had already arrived in Nashville—called an emergency meeting on Tuesday. After nearly two hours of deliberation, they canceled the conference.

RTNDA reported that its exhibit hall was full and booths had been set up, but many of the salespeople and others who were going to staff them were unable to get to Nashville.

"As an organization of newspeople, our board felt strongly that our members needed to be at their jobs," said RTNDA President Barbara Cochran. The organization will be at least partially indemnified by insurance, but she was unsure of how much the cancellation of the annual conference, already hit by the economic downturn, would cost the association.