Although the annual National Assn. of Television Program Executives’ three-day conference in January gets all kinds of attention, NATPE’s efforts to demystify a daunting industry continue all year.
Taking the lead in this regard is the NATPE Educational Foundation, which has an impact that would seem to belie its yearly budget of approximately $50,000.
“The goal,” says foundation prexy Lew Klein, “is to reach out to … NATPE members, students and the academic community, with the idea of furthering their careers in whatever way possible though the different programs that we have. The emphasis in recent years has really been on helping people who are interested in getting into the television business, with the means of better education and opportunities and networking for them.”
While college scholarships were once a significant part of the foundation’s outreach, NATPE has since altered its strategy.
“Even though we were helping a handful of students, we realized that when they graduated, a lot of them didn’t end up going into the business,” Klein says. “If we can reach the college professors who are teaching the kids in school who want to get into our business, those professors in turn will reach hundreds — and, over a period of time, thousands — of students.”
Some of the foundation’s programs are tied into this week’s confab. NATPE gives 30 Faculty Fellows full conference access each year while also tailoring special seminars specifically for them.
Says Tom Mascaro, a 2005 Faculty Fellow who is associate professor at the school of communication studies at Bowling Green State U.: “Not only did I get a broad sense of television programming and syndication … I also got a sense of the international syndication that was completely eye-opening.”
To put it another way, the intrigue that is presented nightly on Spanish telenovelas wasn’t as interesting as what Mascaro saw going on behind the scenes.
“I struck up a relationship with a professor from Mexico City,” Mascaro recalls, “and he was very interested in how Spanish-language programming was distributed worldwide. So we went up to one of the floors of the suites in Mandalay Bay, and there’s at least a half-dozen companies that are distributors of Spanish-language programming. And in the area of the telenovela, what I recall distinctly is they have every age demo covered with a program. So it’s very much the way General Motors used to market cars — Chevrolet, Pinto, Oldsmobile, Buick and Cadillac. With the telenovelas, they have them for young people who are unmarried, young newlyweds, adults that are unattached, middle-aged and older people.”
In addition to providing academics’ conference exposure, NATPE also places six to eight professors every summer in TV stations, production houses and advertising agencies through its Faculty Development Grant program.
“They can become very active in the newsroom,” Klein explains. “Again, they go back to the classroom with a much better understanding of what the real world is like in our business, and they make contacts with people in our business.”
Those contacts can then become guest speakers in college lecture halls as well as lifeboats for students to latch onto as they enter the job market.
As for programs aimed directly at students themselves, most notable are the Student Video and Film Production Award competition and the admission-free Student Career Workshops at different locations around the country.
“We put together a dais of professionals from the area,” NATPE president Rick Feldman says, “and really dive into a full day of answering questions about what it’s really like to work in the business.”
NATPE doesn’t limit its year-round offerings to educators and educatees[cq]. The annual Producers’ Boot Camp hosts 250 producers for seminars, pitch sessions and more. NATPE also increasingly connects TV personnel on an international basis.
“We have about 3,500 members, and I guess about 20% are from outside the U.S.,” Feldman says. “I was in Russia this summer, Budapest, China. There’s common ground in the fact that if you’re in the business, it’s all about matching the right show in the right place to the right advertiser.
“Obviously the economics in each country are different, but the themes are the same. It doesn’t make a difference whether you’re in Minsk or Manitoba.”
Feldman adds that future goals for NATPE include trying to “create some other forums where both the old media and the new media can get together — how can we start talking the same language.”