Mr. TV: Fixer-Upper

I love a good bargain, don’t you? So, let me boast about my latest cost-savings achievement: a room at the cheesy Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas. Unlike January 2008 when staying in one of its tacky “pyramid rooms” ran about $110 a night, Mr. Bargain Hunter booked a room for a mere $47. Needless to say, Vegas is hungry for tourists. And the Luxor, which would make villain King Tut from Batman cringe, badly needs a makeover!

I began my four-day stay in Sin City for the annual National Association of Television Program Executives conference by taking a walk down the long strip, which is chock full of construction for luxury high-rise apartments that probably won’t sell. One building that was supposed to be about 50 stories, in fact, stopped construction midway up. The crumbling economy is visible everywhere. So my expectations for this year’s NATPE conference were low. What news could there to be report when there are so few new first-run strips?

The conference kicked off Tuesday morning with a keynote speech by Lionsgate CEO and co-chairman Jon Feltheimer, which sounded more like an infomercial for the studio than anything else. It seemed like 90 percent of the audience was there to pitch a show idea they had. I was not impressed. But my one-on-one conversation with the raucous Wendy Williams that afternoon, which I will feature in next week’s column, was fun and lively, all the more reason why she might offer an interesting alternative in daytime talk. Wendy is no Oprah, but I consider that a good thing.

After making the rounds on the sadly barren convention floor (the least populated I have ever seen in 16 years attending), I headed to some of the suites, which were also sorely lacking people. That said, I knew finding news at this year’s NATPE would be pretty much like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Later that day Warner Bros. held a cocktail party, at which the syndicator confirmed that The Bonnie Hunt Show will be back for year two of her talker (finally, some news!). And since no visit to Las Vegas is complete without a show of some sort, I headed to the stuck-in-the-’70s Flamingo Hotel to see Donny and Marie Osmond’s stage show. No, they didn’t come out on roller skates, and, no, Donny did not dunk Marie in a pool (à la their kitschy variety hour). But they were fun and nostalgic and quite an overpowering presence. After all, their head shots dominate one entire side of the 20-plus story hotel—their teeth alone took up an entire floor!

Thankfully, another bit of news hit: Marie’s pending talk show via Program Partners became an official go, with announced clearances on WNBC in New York and KTLA in Los Angeles.
That puts clearances for Marie in the 70 percent range. To any market that hasn’t cleared Marie, what are you waiting for? I am convinced she has the four key ingredients needed to succeed in daytime: warmth, sincerity, talent and experience.

On my way back to the Luxor, I noticed two glowing slot machines devoted to sitcom Happy Days, complete with Henry “The Fonz” Winkler and his nerdy buddies Richie, “Potsie” and Ralph. Yup…I was reliving the ’70s. If only I didn’t have to look in the mirror!

If Tuesday was slow, Wednesday was even worse. It was hard to even find people on the floor. While I understand that the current awful state of the economy has taken its toll, it’s obvious that the once-proud NATPE—which in its heyday attracted every single syndicator to pitch its content—is now dominated by second-rate producers hawking schlocky product.
Word of advice to anyone attending next year: Avoid anyone wearing a lime-green jacket—they’re just trying to sell you some sort of dreck!

Rumors, of course, spread once again that this could be the end of NATPE. We’ve heard this for years, maybe decades. I don’t really believe it. But the next time a conversation arises about moving it to Los Angeles, I think NATPE’s organizers should jump at the opportunity.
With the production studios at its beck and call, NATPE could evolve into a more mass-appeal, entertainment-driven event. And many of the locals avoiding Las Vegas would have a place to meet. That alone would give NATPE a much-needed shot in the arm. It’s so sad to see how it’s become a shell of its former self.    

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