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'Lively market' sees space, stars.

So where can you chat with novelist Anne Rice, pitch a co-production to a German broadcaster, hear Leslie Moonves expatiate on the future of the industry, or simply pig out on po'boys for four days?

You can do all of the above at the 35th annual NATPE convention, which unfolds in the Crescent City Jan. 19-22 - and at the same time check out the 150-odd TV shows available for syndication in the U.S. - and abroad - in 1998.

Per various industry sources, this year's syndication marketplace is set to be one of the liveliest in years, with more starpower product vying for stations than at anytime in the last decade.

A gallimaufry of court shows, talk shows, reality shows and games are all being pitched to stations. Spurred by the success of shows like "Rosie O'Donnell" and "Judge Judy," syndicators are betting the bank this go-round on a clutch of celebrity-driven projects - with Roseanne and Magic Johnson at the top of the list - or dusting off some tried-and-true franchises - "Hollywood squares" and "Love Connection."

Confab organizers point out that registration is pacing well ahead of. last year's tally of 18,000. Companies exhibiting at this year's edition stand at 685, up from 670 a year ago.

Says Petry National VP and director of programming Jack Fentress: "I expect it'll be a very lively market. The number of firstrun projects is way up over last year, and there may be more shows unveiled right down to the wire before NATPE."

On the other hand, much of what is being brought to market are "imitations and rebirths," points out Seltel VP programming Janeen Bjork.

And despite the increase in the number of stations in many local markets, there is not right now a noticeable increase in the number of good timeslots for new product, Bjork notes. "Getting real numbers from real time periods will be harder this year," she opines.

NATPE president Bruce Johansen told Variety that the most salient novelty at this year's convention is the presence of a hefty contingent of advertising types.

"Advertisers are getting more and more into the development loop," Johansen points out. "Almost all the blue chip companies, the P&G's, Bristol Myers, General Motors, will be represented at NATPE."

The TV station business is coming off of a healthy fourth quarter and is going into '98 with optimistic expectations. Partly because of that, they'll be fielding strong teams at the show.

On the international front, the lure of NATPE continues to draw impressive numbers from both Europe and Latin America. TV station program buyers from the Asian tiger countries beset by economic woes - have cut back on their attendance.

Foreign-based companies now account for some 15% of total NATPE attendance and they nowadays arrive with much more realistic expectations of their interaction with the U.S. market.

"There are, however, co-production and advertising opportunities for (foreign broadcasters and producers), though selling directly into the U.S. market is still very unusual," Johansen says. "On the other hand," he adds, "U.S. producers are looking for money from offshore to finance their projects, and hence, are demonstrating much more interest in the workings of foreign TV markets."

Adds Gilles Meunier, exec VP acquisitions for French powerhouse paybox Canal Plus: "The quality of our relationships and of our discussions gets better and better with each NATPE."

And because of the expansion of digital TV in Europe, Meunier adds, Americans appear much more interested in taking part in those discussions.

As an indication of the integration of the foreign delegates into the overall market mix, a trio of NATPE panels will turn the tables so that U.S. producers will be pitching projects to German, French and British broadcasters.

One of the changes made by NATPE organizers has been to cut back on the number of panel sessions scheduled each day during the confab - and at the same time upgrade the caliber of participants.

Instead of having to choose between three simultaneous sessions each day, delegates will be faced with only two.

On Monday Jan. 19, the day before the trading floor opens, hypothetical pitch sessions with French, German and U.K. broadcasters will be staged in sequence. Those will be followed by a keynote from William Kennard, the newly minted head of the FCC, who will be making his first major address to the industry. News anchor Brian Williams will funnel questions from the floor to Kennard.

That night in a session moderated by emcee Chuck Woolery, producers will have a chance to pitch projects to a roundtable of U.S. studio and web execs.

Other highlights of the four-day event include:

* A keynote from the ever-unpredictable Roseanne Tuesday, Jan. 20 and another from CBS Entertainment president Leslie Moonves on Wednesday, Jan. 21;

* A debate between producer Dick Wolf ("Law and Order") and conservative congressman Bily Tauzin Tuesday, Jan. 20;

* A panel Jan. 20 devoted to the digital dilemmas facing broadcasters, moderated by Lucie Salhany, and featuring station heavyweights Bud Paxson, David Smith and Tom Rogers, among others. Another panel addressing advertiser issues Jan. 21 will feature heavyweight agency execs like Jon Mandel and Steve Grubbs and client reps like Quaker Oats' Linda Caffarello and Frito Lay's Sharon Wesson.

* A conversation between Grant Tinker, who receives a Lifetime Achievement Award Monday at NATPE, and veteran TV producer David Wolper on Thursday, Jan. 22.
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Title Annotation:Spotlight: NATPE '98
Author:Guider, Elizabeth
Date:Jan 12, 1998
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