TVWeek.com is putting its readers in the thick of the action at the National Association of Program Executives 2007 conference with the help of guest bloggers Ritch Colbert and Josh Raphaelson, principles at Program Partners. Mr. Colbert and Mr. Raphaelson, consummate insiders, will be prowling the floors and suites and sending their impressions via instant messages. Their company, Program Partners, distributes shows including “Degrassi: The Next Generation,” “Da Vinci’s Inquest” and “Cold Squad.”


Previous Months


The End of NATPE

January 19, 2007 2:40 PM


Does everybody remember the scene in “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” when John Candy and Steve Martin unexpectedly wake up in bed together?

Candy: “Those aren’t pillows!”
Martin (leaping out of bed): “How about those Bears?”

In the last two days, we’ve had 5 different meetings with 11 people from Tribune Broadcasting. They are a stand-up organization, and they’ve shown real vision and generosity to us, helping us launch three projects that were critical to our small company. There has been a lot of speculation lately about Tribune’s future, and the people we work with have dealt with this distraction with absolute class and distinction.

For us one feature of NATPE, in addition to all the noise about buying and selling, is that we get to meet with all our great clients and tell them how fortunate we feel to be in business with them. This is what we were saying yesterday to our friends at Superstation WGN, who, with our clients at Brad Lachman Productions, joined us in launching the runaway hit (no kidding), “Funniest Pets and People”. We took this concept to WGN in September. They bought 125 episodes on the condition that we start delivery in October. In its first week on the air, it was the #2 rated program on the entire network. In its second month, it went to #1. It takes a certain kind of confidence and knowledge about your business to make a call like the one WGN made there, and it was nice to see one that actually paid off. That’s why we were thanking Bill Shaw, WGN’s President, and Ken Reiner, their Director of Programming, so profusely for their support. For a moment there, you could cut the drama in the screening room with a knife.

“How about those Bears?” Josh said. It was a timely question for a pair of Chicago-based clients.

On Wednesday night, we popped champagne corks and celebrated with our Canadian partners, Tim Gamble and Mike Shepherd of Thunderbird Films, and the producer and featured actors from the new procedural drama series, “Intelligence”. Chris Haddock, Creator and Executive Producer of “Da Vinci’s Inquest” and now “Intelligence,” is brilliant. Chris had created an open for “Da Vinci” with black and white footage over a blue background that was so compelling, we used it to re-package the entire series for syndication and to design boxes for Acorn Media’s soon-to-be-released “Da Vinci” DVDs. We gave Chris one of the first DVD sets hot off the presses, and he revealed his inspiration for that open: the classic album covers of Blue Note Records. Ian Tracy, star of “Intelligence” and a featured actor in “Da Vinci’s Inquest,” told me how he learned to play underworld characters. Separately as kids, both he and Chris were attracted to the “seedy” part of Vancouver and would sit for hours on park benches to observe the drifters, hustlers, addicts and other assorted street characters. As teenagers, both became “buskers” who played music in the street, not for the money but to get closer to that world.

It’s easy to get caught up in the frenetic pace of a trade show. Maybe that’s how, when a publication referred to a new series as “the one with the bald-headed security guard from ‘Jerry Springer’,” we took the phrase and ran with it, and well, maybe ran a little too far with it. We’ve never met Steve Wilkos, but people keep telling us that he’s a great guy. Just judging from his description, we’d much rather be his friend than, well, not his friend. Good luck, Steve. We really hope there’s no hard feelings. Your American dream is ours, too. We should all have new shows in the Fall…

As the convention draws to a close, people get tired and tempers can be short. Normally happy, well-adjusted citizens can turn slightly vicious. For example, by Wednesday night, one station exec was complaining about interminably late dinners.

“When people order coffee, it just sets me off!” she said. “COFFEE! FOR THE LOVE OF G-D! WHO THE HELL ORDERED COFFEE?!!”

Doesn’t sound overly rational, right? But the pressures of NATPE can drive some people a little crazy.

How else to explain those persistent reports that sales management of one studio was going out of its way to slam us and our show, “Let’s Play Crosswords,” even though we all have more to gain if both their show and ours get on the air. Can’t we all just get along?

We concluded NATPE with our staff gathered around the conference table for the traditional final team meeting. We told everyone how proud we were of their preparation and focus. Not one person lost a step to any of the many temptations of this town. And we made big gains on all of our objectives. Most gratifying for us was watching a new generation catch a little bit of the NATPE fever that had drawn us into the business in the first place. If this were a movie, we’d cue the montage here: Merv Griffin regaling a crowd of buyers in our suite on Sunday night, and that breakthrough moment when Colbert got the first “Crosswords” order, and we knew we were on our way to launching a new series; those adorable “Degrassi” kids and Linda Schuyler, their pioneering (and wonderfully effusive) producer; Josh’s wife, Kelly, surprising him with a trade ad to celebrate the anniversary of their first date at NATPE in 1992, and Josh’s five-year-old daughter, Katie, having a late night ice cream in her pajamas at THEhotel’s exclusive restaurant, The Mix; our assistants under fire learning valuable lessons about reservations and confirmations and also receiving lavish praise from clients who had enjoyed their collegiality by phone but were meeting them in person now for the first time; the parade of long time friends who still enjoy the business, and the warm wishes of a few people who may be rooting for our success against tall odds…

How about those Bears?

Ritch Colbert and Josh Raphaelson

More from NATPE...

January 17, 2007 7:18 PM

You have to love this business. For a show we unveiled on Sunday, we are starting to take orders and gain momentum on Wednesday. We have found broadcasters interested in a new concept—getting ratings for their station. But over the course of these two days we’ve had stations taking every possible position, and its opposite, on the market. Some say there aren’t enough shows to go around, some say they have plenty. It’s running about 2-1 in favor of the “low supply” siders.

Well, there goes the neighborhood. In life you can’t choose your parents, and at NATPE you can’t choose your neighbors. We’re in suite 61-904. Suite 61-903 is Roger King. And entourage.

Roger, who today is the CEO of CBS Television Distribution (CBS/King World/Paramount/Eyemark), once worked for one of our mentors, Dick Colbert. Dick’s son, is Ritch Colbert, co-author of this blog and a Program Partner principal. In fact, when Ritch started in the industry, he and Roger were occasionally roommates on the road.

In case you don’t know Roger, he has a somewhat out-sized personality, and he can be fun to have around. He (truly) could not have been more gracious in our suite when he came over and warmly welcomed Dick and Ritch and myself and wished us well with the new game show from Merv Griffin, “Let’s Play Crosswords.”

But here’s the thing. We’re all about the Golden Rule. And we’re all for trade show spirit. But Roger keeps coming over here to borrow stuff. First it was an ash tray, then a DVD. He goes on and on about the $3.2 billion in sales he’s made this year. According to one publication, NATPE is “his giant playground.” With 70,000 hours of programming you don’t get your own ashtray?

We mention Amy Carney, our colleague from Sony, out of sheer vanity and hoping that she may finally notice us.

In the grand tradition of NATPE, we have talent in our suite. This year, we have six members of the cast of our young adult daily drama, “Degrassi: The Next Generation”. They are Canadian, at or under twenty-years-old and absolutely adorable. They blush whenever anyone asks them to sign something (which is a lot). I’ve been doing the same thing, but for a completely different reason. It’s usually a waiter or catering staffer who asks me.

Our crack PR team from Priority includes a European rep, Marylou, who lives in Nice. At our team dinner the other night, Mary Lou told Josh that she is the product of an American father and a French mother, and that her parents met in France when her father was there under the Marshall Plan.

“You seem so young,” Josh said. “Was that the ‘Gary’ Marshall Plan?”

Is this on? We know you’re out there…

Josh Raphaelson and Ritch Colbert

More from Tuesday at NATPE

January 16, 2007 4:58 PM

NATPE officially starts for us today, but the road to NATPE has been interesting. For us the conference kicked off unofficially on Sunday when a crowd of about 60 people filled our suite for an advance sneak pre-view of our new production from Merv Griffin, “Let’s Play Crosswords”. We had a majority of the major group broadcasters represented, and Merv held the crowd in the palm of his hand. We asked him to talk about his inspiration for the show and to introduce the presentation video. “Try and get me off,” he said. Before the crowd, his anecdotes ranged from Bugsy Siegel’s Las Vegas to his own ‘contretemps with Donald Trump’ (now there’s a series to compete with the bald-headed security guard from Jerry Springer). He described how for 15 years he has been mulling over the idea of a game show based on crossword puzzles, and how only through some recent, intensive development sessions had he figured out a dramatic way to bring the format to the screen. Merv described the specific camera angles and contestant shots he envisions, presented a detailed sketch of the stage and a state-of-the-art CGI animatic pilot that reveals the game play. I’m may be the wrong person to ask how effective this presentation was, but I will tell you this: when the winning contestant completed the lightning bonus round just under the wire, the room erupted in spontaneous applause. That’s television.

There was some brouhaha about the announcement of the Merv Griffin series. In advance, we had scheduled meetings with journalists for Monday (yesterday) to go on the record with a “major announcement”. We embargoed the story until then, because we just didn’t want to take any of the air out of our dramatic Sunday meeting. But on Friday last week, a few journalists had gotten wind of the story and were going to press with it. It all worked fine for us, and we’ve been blessed with terrific media support. But when one of the journalists showed up late for an interview yesterday because their hotel room had flooded, I couldn’t resist telling them the same thing we’ve repeated over and over again to our wonderful PR representatives… Wait for it…

“We’ve got to control these leaks!”


Tuesday at NATPE

January 16, 2007 4:09 PM

Surprise, surprise. After a slow December, it’s all coming out now. Fox announced that their hybrid game show, “Temptation” has wrested a clearance from the Fox owned MNT stations in major markets. And Warner Brothers announced yesterday a deal for all the Fox owned Fox affiliates for “TMZ.com.” Not to be outdone, and having put a syndicated version of “Deal or No Deal” on hold, NBCU announced a new replacement show that could be a killer—literally. Unofficially, it’s the bald-headed security guard from the Jerry Springer Show (hosted by Jerry’s long time head of security, Steve Wilkos). Tribune is announcing its pick up of the show, potentially to replace Greg Behrendt, which hasn’t met anyone’s expectations, but stations are obligated to continue through the rest of the year.

And Merv Griffin has a new show. Have you heard? “Let’s Play Crosswords”—it’s “Wheel of Fortune” meets “Jeopardy,” from the most successful game show producer in the history of syndication. Like it? I do!


January 12, 2007 1:11 AM

In the first hour of the first day of NATPE last year, I ran into the brilliant Chicago-based programmer, Neil Saban, on an elevator at THEhotel.

“Seen anything that impressed you so far?” I asked. The show was about five minutes old at this point.

“Come to think of it, there is one small thing,” he said. “The WB and UPN are merging.”

Boom! Two networks going dark and merging into one. Who said nothing new ever happens at NATPE anymore?

After all, in 2005, Ritch Colbert and I launched our syndication effort at NATPE after a handful of broadcasters literally chased us down the halls of THEhotel asking for a shot at a procedural drama called “Da Vinci’s Inquest.” Eight weeks later, we had logged nearly a hundred thousand air miles to clear “Da Vinci” in 80% of the country.

But two networks going dark?

For those of us on the domestic side of the U.S. TV business, NATPE traditionally
represents a culmination of months of painstaking relationship building and preparation. This was definitely not going according to script.

We’re an independent distributor, which means we have to take our shots as soon as they present themselves to us.Our strategy for ‘06 was not rocket science: a doubling-down of our ’05 strategy, this time with a block of two hour-long crime dramas designed to take over a movie time-slot, with no time-period restrictions. But what a nice coincidence: we were the only company that came to market with a first-run, prime time product tailor-made for a bunch of newly independent stations.

So, once again, NATPE got exciting for us—in a good way—for reasons that we could not have expected.

This year, especially, it’s hard to see where you’d find the fireworks. By early December, the first-run market got quiet. Even a little too quiet. There was no new “firm go” for Fall 2007—not even a simple “go!” CBS was shopping a game block but not announcing anything. Fox was also shopping an unannounced game. Disney seemed not to be taking out anything new, ditto Paramount and Sony. And while there were new ’06 series performing well below expectations, there was little evidence of downgraded time-periods or shows going out of production.

It brought to mind the words of that noted sociologist, Yogi Berra, who was said to have remarked about a popular restaurant, “the place is so crowded, nobody goes there anymore.”

Usually the majors have their chess pieces pretty much in place by this time of year. So what is going on? Have the big players turned their backs on syndication? Or is there a January surprise waiting in the wings?