July 10, 2008 3:53 PM
NATPE, January 1994 – Miami.
My job as assistant to the executive producers of "Baywatch" had led to my first producing job on their next series, "Thunder in Paradise." NATPE was the scene of the big series kickoff and the coming out party for the newly minted Rysher Entertainment.
The company had a fat checkbook and nothing was too grandiose for the NATPE party at the Doral Hotel. The newly re-united were Eagles booked to play on a stage poolside with the beach at their back. My job – coordinate the placement of the 43 foot Wellcraft offshore racer that had been customized to be something of a PT Boat on steroids for the series -- and to book a dozen “Thunder Girls” as eye candy to surround our star, wrestling idol, Hulk Hogan. Between his biceps and their breasts, there was a whole lot of shakin’ going on.
Like any good NATPE blowout, the party got wild fast. When people began jumping in the pool with all of their clothes on, it became legendary. I was somewhat pre-occupied when a band member began hitting on one of the girls. They had to be whisked out before the show wrapped, just to make sure they would be well rested for their next-day chores on the floor.
1994 may well have been the high-water mark of first-run syndication hours. NATPE was the defining market for any producer or distributor looking to secure that magic clearance number of 70%, and many shows that entered the market as long shots walked out with a green light. Middle and indie outfits were players in the wild, wild west of syndication in that era.
In those 14 years since NATPE, Miami, much has changed. Hulk Hogan is a reality TV star. The Eagles have reunited many more times and are laughing all the way to the bank. Thanks to the miracles of plastic surgery, it is likely that the Thunder Girls look exactly the same. I have aged, however, as most people thought I was 20 at the time, I still have a slight advantage over the truth.
NATPE has changed as well. It’s become the third leg of the critical international marketplace for American studios, along with European buyers and sellers. New Media companies have joined the mix with the explosion of iTunes, YouTube, Hulu, and other services that are becoming part of the rights waterfall of television programming.
Whatever the platform, content remains king and NATPE houses the throne.
—Kevin Beggs, NATPE co-chair and president, programming and production at Lionsgate