Mr. TV: See You in Sin City

This week I’m heading to Las Vegas for a look at the annual NATPE conference and, more importantly, to moderate a panel session with the cast and creator of ABC hit Modern Family.

Before I get to that, I have just a few more words about the NBC late-night mess that I addressed in my column last week. As it stands, Jay Leno is the “villain” because the masses think fair-haired Conan O’Brien was pushed out of his job, just as David Letterman was by Leno 18 years ago when NBC needed to replace Johnny Carson. But don’t be fooled.

Conan was not doing well in the ratings. Funny how some NBC execs are pointing the finger at Conan now that he is exiting, after their spin machine spent months trying to convince me he was a hit.

Leno also got screwed because he never wanted to be upgraded into prime time to begin with.  But returning to The Tonight Show with his tail between his legs only makes him look weak and desperate. While Leno has his precious job back, it will never be the same.

Conan, meanwhile, will likely head to Fox (or elsewhere) in his new hero role and about $30 million richer care of his NBC settlement. While I’ve never been much of a fan of his humor, Conan has a backbone, and I will give him a second look in his next venue. I bet others will too.

The sad reality at NBC is probably more layoffs and cutbacks to come up with the dough to pay Conan. Too bad the network won’t get rid of the executive responsible for all of this. His salary alone would probably cover most of that fee.

Moving on, the big item of note for me this week at NATPE is the panel session I’ll be moderating about ABC hit Modern Family. I have done things for NATPE before, like moderating one-on-one conversations with Robin Leach and the co-creator of The Amazing Race, Elise Doganieri.

But this opportunity is enormous simply because of the star power that will join me on stage, including Ed O’Neill, Sofia Vergara, Julie Bowen, Ty Burrell, Twentieth Television chairman Dana Walden and Modern Family creator Steve Levitan. Who said the sitcom is dead?

Not only will the success of Modern Family give the whole sitcom genre a boost (expect plenty of comedies in development), it looks like NBC’s overrated 30 Rock will have to step down from the Emmy podium. Either Modern Family or Fox’s Golden Globe-winning Glee will dominate…you’ll see.

What amazes me is how compatible O’Neill’s and Vergara’s characters are despite the age difference, and how Modern Family manages to so adeptly capture the absurdities and quirks of this odd but loving family. But the standout couple, I think, is Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet as new parents Mitchell and Cameron.  One scene in particular stands out: The two accidentally lock baby Lily in the car, and Cam simply goes ape. “That’s a man,” Mitchell explains to the OnStar operator trying to help him, as Cam is screaming in the background. I can’t wait to see how Lily will grow up with these two dads.

While Levitan’s last hit, Just Shoot Me, never got the attention it deserved at NBC (no surprise, right?), Modern Family is no ugly stepchild. It will, no doubt, be considered one of the key ingredients in the expected sitcom resurgence.

NATPE has been trimmed down to three days instead of the usual four, and will be featured in a scaled-down ballroom and in individual hotel room suites instead of the once-robust floor. As we all know, the days of selling syndicated programming at the conference and attending lavish parties are a thing of the past.

But as I say every year, I still personally think there is great value to have a meet-and-greet with your peers at least once per year. And speaking of value, here’s one for you. Those rooms at the Mandalay Bay Hotel that are normally over $200 per night are now just $89.00.
Factor in your AAA membership, and you can get them for $80. I know a bargain when I see one. See you in Sin City.