At Synditel, show and tell

High absentee rate miffs some attendees, but syndicators keep smiling and pitching

To the chagrin of a number of TV critics, many high-profile syndication stars didn't make it to Synditel, the annual curtain raiser for first-run programming in Los Angeles.

In the chagrinned camp was USA Today critic Robert Bianco, who stood up during the Queen of Swords roundtable to ask the show's distributor, Paramount (also Dr. Laura's home): "Do you really think we want to talk about Queen of Swords when the person we really want to talk about [Dr. Laura Schlessinger] isn't here?" Apparently some did, since the roundtable continued without Bianco, who walked out.

All of the no-shows gave their reasons.

Paramount had said several weeks ago that Schlessinger would be at a charity event in San Diego, and King World said Cindy Margolis was stuck in production and couldn't get a flight out for the July 7 event. King World rescheduled Margolis' appearance to July 14.

Pearson said its To Tell the Truth host, John O'Hurley, was never on the Synditel bill because of a conflicting engagement, and MGM said a few weeks ago that Sex Wars co-star J.D. Roth would be out of the country.

Explanations notwithstanding, the competition was making some hay out of the absences.

"Any person would question why the things that were scheduled didn't go down properly," said one syndicator. "If my guy didn't show up and he was scheduled to show up, it would be all over the trades."

Television Critics Association President Eric Kohanik pointed out that more journalists showed up in Pasadena for Synditel 2000 than in previous years. He speculated that many critics, hearing that hot topic Schlessinger was slated to appear, made their flight reservations. But when she opted out, they came anyway, having already purchased tickets.

"We had a full house," he said. "[The absent celebs] really missed out on an opportunity."

That said, the syndication stars who did appear were pleased with the results.

Although Power of Attorney's Gloria Allred had to field the dicey question "What is your hourly rate and are you taking a pay cut to be on this show?" she appeared glad to be able to spread the news about her show.

"The critics were having a bad day because there were so many no-shows. So that, when certain people did show up, instead of giving us credit, they still had a bad taste in their mouth," said Allred, who pulls in $400 an hour but "doesn't have an argument at this point" with her Power salary.

One critic yelled out, "This is bullshit!" when Twentieth Television Executive VP of Development Cliff Lachman said that Power co-star Christopher Darden was caught up in court and would miss the Power session but would instead try to make it to Synditel's cocktail party wrap-up.

Darden did.

Joe Scotti, Pearson Television North America's president of distribution and marketing, was buoyed by his show's session. "Both [Paula Poundstone and Meshach Taylor] free-flowed with funny comments and proved why To Tell the Truth is a fun format and a fun show," he said.

King World, which featured James Curtis, the star of its new court entry Curtis Court, came away pleased with the experience as well.

"I think Synditel is an especially important venue for shows to meet with the press that you wouldn't normally connect with," said Curtis Court executive producer Mary Duffy.

Other syndication show-and-tell sessions included Tribune's Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda (with its marquee star Kevin Sorbo in attendance) and Arrest & Trial, with creator Dick Wolf beamed in by satellite to chat about his reality/court hybrid.