Newcomers aim to cash in on syndie biz

NATPE hopefuls seek 'Dr. Phil's' syndie Rx

LAS VEGAS — A gaggle of firstrun strip projects will hit the floor of NATPE Tuesday in hopes of becoming the next syndie sensation, something no one’s accomplished since “Dr. Phil” launched three years ago.

NBC Universal is fielding a supposedly re-energized Martha Stewart, who, once out of prison, will be restyled by reality maestro Mark Burnett. Sony is pitching Howard Stern sidekick Robin Quivers and Warners is banking on supermodel Tyra Banks, both as gabbers who hope to carve a niche somewhere between stalwarts “Oprah” and “Ellen.”

Meanwhile, Twentieth TV is juggling three newcomers: a money advice show fronted by Suze Orman, whom Twentieth prexy Bob Cook calls “the Dr. Phil of finance”; a resuscitated “A Current Affair,” to be anchored by sports commentator Tim Green, and a court show contender presided over by Miami judge Alex Ferrer. (Twentieth has already cleared 50% of the country on the newsmag and is making similar headway with the court show.)

The hottest slots: the “Larry Elder” morning time periods on CBS, which all the gabbers are going after.

Expect some hot and heavy dealmaking during the 42nd National Assn. of Television Program Executives confab, which runs through Thursday.

Revenues for winners in the syndie sweepstakes have never been higher — the barter biz alone was worth $3.5 billion in 2004 — but the price of failure is daunting. No one just throws an iffy project at the dart board anymore: If it misses, millions of dollars will be lost.

For this reason, several syndicators — Paramount, King World and Disney — have decided to sit out this round, nurturing their successful strips and/or concentrating on the launch of off-net sitcoms and dramas. (King World, for example, controls the repeats of all three “CSI” series.)

However, Tribune Entertainment, another key player that presumably was coming empty-handed to the trade show, jumped back into the syndie fray Friday, announcing it would bring old “Candid Camera” reruns to market as well as a three-hour kids block produced by DIC.

Still, with the syndie biz so slimmed down, a lot of the action in Vegas will focus on cable offerings and on foreign formats.

HBO will be shopping reruns of “The Sopranos,” Sony is handling Oxygen Channel’s “Girls Behaving Badly” and Euro players like Granada and Fremantle will be hawking a slew of reality concepts.

“We’re trying to make the trade show deliver something for everyone. All aspects of the TV biz are represented and we’re trying to expand what the definition of a TV programmer encompasses,” NATPE prexy-CEO Rick Feldman told Daily Variety.

The newly retooled NATPE was expected to attract some 8,000 professionals, though severe winter weather may cut into the number traveling from the East Coast.

Those attending included station general managers and program distributors, foreign buyers and broadcasters, producers, advertisers, bankers, consultants, agents, high-tech practitioners and consultants.

“The usual suspects will be on hand at this NATPE, but there’s more uncertainty than usual as to what shows will in the end go forward,” said Bill Carroll, who as the top programming maven for the Katz rep firm advises stations on what product to buy.

A number of celebs are scheduled to make the hop from Hollywood to gladhand, including most of the new talkshow hopefuls and several stars of offnet offerings, from Charlie Sheen to Kiefer Sutherland.

Traditionally, NATPE has been a favorite spot for affiliate-network meetings, although this trend has ebbed in recent years. This year, Fox was the only net to hold an affil meeting during the confab.

Briefing Fox affils on Sunday were a variety of speakers, including News Corp. prexy-chief operating officer Peter Chernin, Fox Entertainment prexy Gail Berman, Fox Networks Group prexy-CEO Tony Vinciquerra and Fox sked and research topper Preston Beckman.

The record-breaking bow of Fox’s reality blockbuster “American Idol” gave Chernin and Berman something positive to talk about, although Chernin was upfront in saying no one was happy with Fox’s performance during the fall. Those attending the meeting said affils didn’t seem too upset by the net’s standing, with no one taking Berman or Chernin to task.

Berman appeared on a Q&A panel alongside top media buyer Stacey Lynn Koerner, an exec VP at Initiative Media. Like Chernin in his lunchtime talk, Berman acknowledged there was too much reality on the fall sked. “American Idol” exec producer Cecile Frot-Coutaz and “24” exec producer Evan Katz both appeared on a programming panel.

Also speaking to affiliates during Sunday’s closed-door sesh was U.S. Rep. John Ensign, a Republican from Nevada. Although he talked about the Federal Communications Commission, he didn’t put forth any possible successors to outgoing FCC chair Michael Powell.

News Corp. top exec Lachlan Murdoch also attended the affil meeting, but did not speak.

Today, on the eve of NATPE proper, organizers have partnered with the iHollywood Forum to sponsor several sessions devoted to the nascent world of mobile devices. Some 300 participants are expected for the Monday sessions.

Keynote address on Mobile Day will be given by Lucy Hood, News Corp. senior VP for content, who will present an “American Idol” case study and talk about future mobile strategies.

Alongside the main sales bazaar Tuesday through Thursday, NATPE organizers have put together an impressive roster of panels and keynotes, Internet chat rooms and coffee klatches.

Opening-day keynoter Tuesday is Ted Turner, whose theme is still under wraps.

Feldman, who has been in the saddle for 18 months, inherited a dispirited and, in some cases, disgruntled membership. He has worked hard to reinvigorate the event and keep costs of attending in check.

Most companies with programs to sell, including several of the Hollywood majors, are returning to the convention floor proper, while others, including Warners, Fox and Disney, will be exhibiting from suites in the adjoining hotel.

Staging the event in Mandalay Bay should effectively take the sting out of complaints that previous recent NATPEs have been hard to navigate. Those on the floor benefit from a more open, casual approach to the biz and will attract additional foot traffic. On the downside, they may not like having hangers-on, well, hanging around.

Those ensconced in suites will be able to conduct business in a more business-like environment, but few serendipitous meetings will take place.

(Pamela McClintock contributed to this report.)