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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.”

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NATPE IM Blog

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?

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