NATPE gets creative

Inside-the-show seminars draw dealmakers

The Strip isn’t the only place to see stars in Las Vegas.

NATPE’s annual convention, known for being the place where people buy and sell syndicated programs, has evolved over the years along with the rest of the TV industry, but NATPE execs have added creative and celebrity-themed panels to remind attendees that TV starts with content.

In the old days, NATPE was like a farmer’s market of television,” says producer Jonathan Prince (“The Cleaner”). “You’d go there to buy shows like ‘Fishing Fever’ or ‘Donahue’ or reruns of ‘Taxi’ for your station in Des Moines.”

Nevertheless, a demand for business-light seminars that celebrate or examine certain programming exists.

NATPE is both a marketplace and a conference,” says Rick Feldman, the organization’s president. “We can’t control the market, we just reflect it.”

Among the options this year: Steve Levitan, executive producer and co-creator of ABC’s breakout comedy series “Modern Family,” will headline a Q&A session tilted: “Think Tank: Anatomy of a Hit: ‘Modern Family, joined onstage by cast members. Bill Lawrence (“Cougartown,” “Scrubs”) will conduct “Storytelling: The Power of Narrative, a Master Class.”

The audience for these panels, Levitan theorizes, could run the gamut from network planners to aspiring writers who want to create the next hit.

There’s a practical business reason for showrunners like Levitan and Lawrence to take time out of their production week to spend a day or two at NATPE, too. “These are the people who will one day have the choice of bidding on (“Modern Family”) for syndication,” Levitan says. “It seems like a good idea to get them invested in it as early as possible.

Anytime you’re called a ‘hit’ in front of people who will one day possibly buy your show is a good thing.”

Noncelebrities in the business frequently work alongside actors, but adding star power to panels can only help fill conference seats.

I’ve been at the upfronts in New York with seasoned executives and advertisers who make lots more money than many of the actors that they’re meeting, and the opportunity to take their picture with that cool guy from ‘NCIS’ or from that cute girl from ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ (is still fun),” Prince says.

I’ve been to enough of these events with people who should be jaded by now, but they still get a kick out of seeing (TV stars) in person,” Levitan concurs.

Prince thinks that having a “Coffee With Hugh Laurie, Katie Jacobs and David Shore” (the star and exec producers of “House”) serves a dual purpose.

Hugh’s an intelligent, articulate actor and has a lot to say about the day-to-day production of a nonserialized medical drama,” Prince says “If people have questions about that, I’m sure he can answer them.”

Those same attendees, Prince says, may also relish the opportunity to say to Laurie, “Hey, do you know what my favorite episode of ‘House’ is?”

NATPE has looked at itself and said, ‘What else can we offer? Prince adds. “If the ‘meal’ is information and access, then what’s for dessert? I don’t think celebrity culture will ever lose its appeal.”

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