Day 1: They come up for air

Escape artist provides fitting conclusion to busy MIPCOM session

In what was an uncannily pertinent symbol of the death-defying moves global companies must make to ride out the economic storm, MIPCOM organizers put on a suspense thriller of a cocktail party Monday featuring a rising star in the international fraternity of TV escape artists. It was a much-needed diversion from the constant checking of stock quotes by the 13,000 participants at the first day of the TV sales bazaar.

David Merlini — like Houdini, born in Budapest, Hungary — entered a specially designed water tank at the Majestic Hotel at 8 p.m. and, with his eyes closed, held his breath for 20 minutes and 39 seconds, breaking the world record by 3:20. Professional mentalist, media fave and occasional MIPCOM celeb Uri Geller was on hand to orchestrate the proceedings and turn it into a veritable showbiz event.

It felt like shades of the old days at NATPE when mud wrestlers, strippers, clowns and assorted animals cavorted on behalf of first-run syndicated series that needed an extra boost to get launched.

But here on the Riviera, it was so, so French a tradeshow affair: Some 750 business-attired guests, fresh from their first full day of wheeling and dealing for program rights in the Palais, sipped champagne, exchanged business cards and got caught up in the countdown to the record.

In the end, Gallic firemen smashed the glass tank, leaving Merlini spattered with blood but safe.

"It felt like last Friday in the stock market — the emotion, that is," said one American TV distributor, though he was quick to point out that this event, for all its danger, ended well. (MIPCOM organizers had taken out considerable insurance on the stunt but would not say how much.)

As for the rest of the day at MIPCOM, attendees were bent on business as usual — so much so that the Palais was stuffed to the gills with program buyers and sellers. (partialdiff)