NATPE: Putting dangerous knowledge to work

NEW ORLEANS — IS NATPE GREAT or what? The answer is obvious if you can ignore the nightmares of delayed/canceled flights in getting here, the unpredictable weather once you’ve arrived, and the fact that everyone is walking around with frantic looks on their faces.

The important thing is, NATPE is the only place on Earth where you can find Prince Edward of England, Johnnie Cochran, Bananas in Pajamas, Chuck Norris and Martha Stewart under the same roof.

The end of civilization as we know it? We’re appalled that you would even think such a thing.

NATPE is the fun-filled annual gathering of people who have traveled from around the globe to buy and sell syndicated TV programming. And, even though many of the new shows are not available for viewing, almost all of them sound great.

The most fascinating title clearly belongs to the Danish interactive show “Throat & Neck in Sheepheaven,” but other shows have provocative program descriptions.

Among the offerings from TPEG/Rigel is “The Lost Ark: The Search for Prehistoric Survivors,” hosted by a cryptozoologist. The company promises that the half-hour reality series will include scientists studying such ancient myths as Loch Ness, Bigfoot, “gold-digging ants and the elusive goatsucker.”

WE HAD A GOLD-DIGGING AUNT ONCE, but who would suck a goat? Or is he the elusive sucker? For these questions alone, the series should sell well.

Court dramas are big this year, including former Gotham Mayor Ed Koch in a reborn version of “The People’s Court,” plus “Judge Judy” and “Comedy Court.” In the latter show, “Real people with real disputes waive their rights to a legal trial so their cases can be decided by comedians.” Well, especially after the O.J. Simpson criminal trial, it makes sense.

Speaking of Simpson, his former defense attorney Cochran is here plugging “Court TV: Inside America’s Courts.” He appeared here, sharing space in the New Line TV booth with Jonathan Harris (who played Dr. Smith in TV’s “Lost in Space”) and tarot card reader Melissa Townsend.

One can only wonder what those three talk about during lunch.

A point of clarification: Though the syndicators and distributors describe their spaces as “booths,” many of them are closer to small estates. Paramount holds the record, with a 14,500-square-foot “booth.”

Tuesday’s ribbon-cutting of Universal’s new 13,000-square-foot “booth” provided a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see Kevin Sorbo (“Hercules: The Legendary Journeys”), gab queen Sally Jessy Raphael, Lucy Lawless (“Xena: Warrior Princess”) and talkshow master Jerry Springer all huddled together.

Exhibs here are covering 400,000 square feet at the New Orleans Convention Center. The distributors occasionally offer souvenirs or food (ranging from soft drinks to complete buffets) and some have even more: Fremantle has a huge, operating carousel; Litton has baby leopards; Saban has 15-foot fiberglass Power Rangers; ITC has women in swimsuits.

ROAMING THE CORRIDORS are people dressed as space monkeys, bananas and gnomes. A clown, wearing an “FCC Friendly” lapel button, watched as Regis & Kathie Lee posed with fans for photos.

And the estimated 16,000 confabgoers walk around as if there were nothing abnormal about any of this.

A man, apparently genuinely confused, asked, “HRH Prince Edward: Is that a person or a TV show? At first I thought it was a rap group.” (For the record, His Royal Highness is hosting a TV series, in a deal masterminded by the William Morris Agency.)

Perhaps the NATPE experience is best summed up by Cable Ready’s proposed series “Dangerous Knowledge.” The Connecticut company offers this description of the show: “People unwittingly find themselves in positions of knowing something they do not want to know.” Attendees here soon figure out that NATPE is the pulse of America and, though the French may not like it, American entertainment sets the agenda for the entire world. That’s something they may not want to know. Or, as the cryptozoologist might put it, there’s a goatsucker born every minute.

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