New shows, optimism enliven NATPE confab

Sunny new setting gives industryites a break from colder climes

The move of the NATPE confab last year to Miami Beach was a hit with station managers and syndie distribs. The sunny new setting allows industryites to get a break from colder climes, rub shoulders with friends and clients and generally take the temperature of the marketplace for their wares.

As the National Assn. of Television Program Executives conference returns today to the Fontainebleau Hotel, there’s a sense among distribs that the syndie biz has come out of the dark period of the last few years, and station buyers fiare ready to embrace new firstrun shows — especially those fronted by familiar faces like Katie Couric, Ricki Lake, Jeff Probst and Steve Harvey.

Part of the optimism is fueled by the fact that voids and weaknesses have emerged in the daytime lineups of many top stations that had been relatively stable for years, even for decades in some cases. And station managers and distribs are still sorting out the opportunities spurred by Oprah Winfrey’s exit from first-run syndication last year.

“Oprah definitely left a void when her show went off the air, which we see as an opportunity,” said CBS TV Distribution prexy John Nogawski. “There were a lot of good timeslots up for grabs, and stations are enthusiastically embracing (talkshows).”

Paul Franklin, Twentieth Television’s exec veep and general sales manager, points to openings in daytime beyond the Oprah factor.

“Regis (Philbin), who was on for 25 years, is gone,” he said, “and the soaps are going off the air one by one.”

Both Franklin and Nogawski are flogging new yakkers for the fall: CBS TV Distribution’s “Jeff Probst,” fronted by the longtime host of the Eye’s “Survivor”; and an all-new “Ricki Lake Show” from Twentieth.

NBCUniversal Domestic has “Steve Harvey,” and Disney-ABC Domestic has its high-profile Katie Couric talker “Katie” (cleared at 93% of U.S. TV households).

As those shows near their airdates, it’s vital for syndication firms to make friendly connections with the stations buying their skeins, whether it’s a meal with Lake or coffee with “Katie” exec producer Jeff Zucker.

Disney-ABC Domestic TV prexy Janice Marinelli said that the face-to-face contact with buyers offered by NATPE is invaluable.

“It’s really important, because these stations have made a big investment in Katie and Jeff,” she said. “They’ll have a chance to ask questions and start to form a relationship with Katie.”

Twentieth will be departing somewhat from its competitors — it’s looking not just to showcase Lake and fish for interest in upcoming offnet properties like Fox’s hot frosh sitcom “New Girl,” but to launch its gossip newsmag “Dish Nation,” as well. The fall show is cleared in 55% of the country to date. Franklin calls the series a big priority for Twentieth at NATPE. It’s the first time in a while that a major distrib has sought to use the confab as a springboard for a new show.

The bottom line is that there is money out there in Miami Beach this week, or at least the perception of it. With the syndie upfronts on the horizon and the market largely recovered from the ad slump that followed the financial crisis, many expect to do more business at NATPE 2012, which runs through Wednesday, than in previous years.