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Femme niche’s to pitch

Women take top three at NATPE's pitch event

NEW ORLEANS — Apparently women make the best pitchers.

Femmes took the top three slots at NATPE’s third annual “Pitch Me!” session Monday night at the Grand Salon of the Hilton.

Tim Alexander, the brains behind the event, retained the format of the past two years: The first 50 arrivals Monday got to make a preliminary pitch at an afternoon sesh, with 15 finalists given three minutes in the evening to tubthump an idea for a TV series in front of industry judges and a rowdy crowd, which numbered at least 1,000, more than double last year’s sesh.

At the top, host Sheryl Lee Ralph asked the four judges what constitutes great entertainment. CAA agent David Tenzer said the important elements are “passion, enthusiasm and a lot of dancing clowns,” which pretty much summed up the mood of the evening.

The eventual winners, two New Orleans women ID’d only as Yvette and Xxavier, began their pitch with “Your Nielsen prayers have been answered — we are here!” and ended with one snatching the wig off the head of her partner. (For the record, the sitcom was described as “an ethnic version of ‘Laverne & Shirley.’ “)

Other contenders included “The Wonderful World of Dogs”; a lifestyle show, “Color It Success,” touted as “one of the most fantastic concepts of our time,” which prompted jeers and catcalls from the audience; and a sitcom about “people living on the edge of life in Middle America.”

Additional also-rans: a fact-based cop drama, with the pitch accompanied by live clarinet mood music, and a kiddie show, presented by Laurie, who identified her hometown as Laurie’s Storybook Land and whose unidentified sidekick added that her show offers “unlimited potential for product licensing.”

Steve from Chicago proposed “Boys Town U.S.A.,” enthusing, “It’s like a gay version of ‘Three’s Company,’ ” following the “kooky adventures” of three gay roommates. Endeavor agency’s Sean Perry deadpanned, after conferring with a fellow judge, “We think it’s right for Pax Net.”

Raucous as the audience was, it was much friendlier than last year. After an energetic start in 1997, “Pitch Me!” was thrown a curve ball for the second sesh, as the audience got bloodthirsty. This year, security was present, just in case. They weren’t needed, though there was a close call.

Judge Andy Friendly of King World concluded that the pitches were “all entertaining,” and Deb McDermott of Young Broadcasting reminded all pitchers, “You have to be clear about it, talk about who your audience is and how you’re going to reach them.”

The winners receive a trophy and a round-trip ticket to Hollywood, to meet producers and agents. Last year’s victor, Richard Willis — who has since garnered an agent and, Ralph said, “is very close to making his first deal” — stepped onstage to announce, “This competition really made a difference.”

An hour after the show started, a nonfinalist jumped onstage and demanded pitch time. An apparently unflappable Ralph nicely stated that she might have given him the stage “if you had asked me nicely … but you tried to bogart me! You already disrespected me.” She left the decision up to the audience members, who overwhelming urged him to get off the stage.

The two runners-up included Cheril Vendetti, an L.A. standup comic who announced her show was titled “I Got Your Recipes Dot-dot-dot Right Here.” Appearing in gingham dress and denim apron, she said it’s a satire of cooking shows, with such episodes as “I Saw the Blessed Mother in My Lasagna.”

Angela Segal offered “The Nation’s Only TV Singles Hour,” aimed at young unmarrieds and featuring a half-hour courtshow followed by “Singles Talk.”

Tenzer asked hopefully, “Are there any dancing clowns?”

She quickly shot back, “Only if they’re single.”

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