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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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The End of NATPE

January 19, 2007 2:40 PM

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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

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