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Syndie stalwarts steal NATPE show

The tried-and-true (and big) top confab

LAS VEGAS — Phil and the two Jerrys are still very big in Vegas.

To judge by the lines of execs on the convention floor Tuesday at NATPE, these off-net syndie stalwarts are stealing much of the action at the mart. And their shows have already been in syndication for one or two cycles. That’s five years or more.

The CBS-King World stand on the convention floor was chock-a-block with station types and indie producers eager for a handshake with the executive producer of “Everybody Loves Raymond” Phil Rosenthal, while Jerry Springer was holding court to a throng over at the Universal booth. Meanwhile, the hot ticket for NATPE-goers was Jerry Seinfeld doing stand-up at a comedy club on the Vegas Strip.

If stars like these rep the pinnacle of NATPE pizzazz, there was a smattering of more oddball celebs gracing the floor as well.

Kato Kaelin was spotted talking to folks at the stand of Atlas Media, the company pushing “Revenge,” a reality court show for cable in which plaintiffs get to use a baseball bat on the guilty party. And Matthew Lesko, the fellow with a book about how to access untapped government funds, was cruising the corridors in a green suit dotted with yellow questions marks.

“The new NATPE is a little like the old NATPE: There are some lady wrestlers on hand: You just can’t tell if the ones nowadays are really lady wrestlers,” quipped longtime syndie observer George Back.

Thanks to a new purposefulness on the part of those 10,000 execs who did show up for the convention, business was also getting done at the confab.

Meanwhile, several hot rumors made the rounds on the second day of the NATPE confab in Vegas.

Despite denials, Warner Bros. was unable to squelch speculation that the Tribune stations have dropped “Sharon Osbourne” and that Warners was scrambling in Vegas to come up with a viable replacement show. Most likely candidates are vehicles for comedian Steve Harvey or radio commentator Larry Elder.

And over at King World, word surfaced that the CBS-owned stations, which are siblings of KW, were quietly looking around the floor to find a possible successor to KW’s poorly performing “Living It Up With Ali and Jack.”

A KW rep stressed that the company was undertaking an overhaul of the flagging strip, which has another year on its contract with stations. The revamp would emphasize services and features and downplay celebs and talking heads.

Unlike Warners, it appears that neither KW nor its other sibling Paramount has anything that could be rushed into production for fall to substitute for “Ali and Jack.” CBS, in other words, may have to find a show from a company outside its own family (what a concept!).

At the midway point of the three-day bazaar Monday, station buyers had begun to circle the half-dozen firstrun strips which will almost certainly ratchet up enough clearances to launch around the country next fall. Most of these shows have already come into the market with a launch station group behind them — often owned by the same conglom that owns the show — so much of the surprise element has been taken out of the dealmaking.

NBC’s “Jane Pauley,” Par’s “The Insider,” “Disney’s “Tony Danza,” Universal’s “Home Delivery” and 20th’s “Ambush Makeover” are all firm gos for the fall, with station clearances ranging from 45% to 90%.

Among shows still building momentum are NBC’s off-net “Fear Factor,” the first such reality show to test the syndie waters in recent years, Sony’s “Pat Croce” and a repackaging of Vin DiBona video clips called “That’s Funny.”

With so much of the traffic on the convention floor directed toward the booths of the heavyweight players like Sony, Universal, NBC and King World-CBS, a couple of hundred small-fry distribs stood around their mini-module booths trying to reel in the overflow crowd.

A CableReady sales exec said she was pleased with the meetings she has held and no one had canceled out on her. Company is pushing “George Knapp’s Las Vegas Files,” and the investigative reporter was skedded for an afternoon cocktail at the stand.

Over on the AFMA umbrella stand, Matthew Ody, a longtime indie distrib who reps Lions Gate movies, said he was pleasantly surprised to see some foreign buyers he hadn’t expected to show, including Aussies and Germans.

Others were having more trouble. Asked if they were doing any business at NATPE, several tiny distribs declined to go on the record or answer in the affirmative but insisted they were hopeful of landing “some kind of cable deal.”

And indeed, cable has become front and center at NATPE, with the Fox Cable Networks booth on the floor of the convention a symbol of the clout of that business. Fox Networks Group head Tony Vinciguerra told Daily Variety that his company is selling more product to cable than into syndication, citing off-net hours and movies as the main sellers.

On the international side, producer-distribs arrayed under the French umbrella pavilion reported an uptick in the number of meetings scheduled and taken, while Canada’s Chum City said it had closed deals with Optus in Australia and with Granada.

A number of panels unspooled during the day, attracting substantial if not always sell-out attendance.

In the adjacent Venetian Hotel, where a number of other major players are ensconced, business picked up Tuesday though the tone was low-key and businesslike in most suites.

“The hoopla has been taken out of NATPE almost entirely,” said one longtime observer of the scene. “There’s simply too much money at stake for the big guys not to be entirely focused on the business at hand,” the veteran added.

“We’re pretty happy with the level of attendance and the meetings we’ve been having,” said Paramount Intl. TV prexy Gary Marenzi, who added that the general economic gloom has lifted abroad and business is getting back to normal.

“Normal,” of course, still means tough as foreign broadcasters continue to prefer locally produced fare rather than imports from the U.S.

“We only buy the (American) series because we have to. That’s the way we get the movies we want,” said Mexico’s TV Azteca head Pedro Lascurain during a panel focused on what programs international buyers want.

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