No shortage of plane pains but too few hugs and kooks


It was a bumpy road to NATPE in more ways than one. Numerous TV executives -- sellers, buyers, creatives and the like -- found themselves harried and frantic on the eve of the organization's annual Conference & Exhibition in Las Vegas, mostly because of travel hassles.

Weather-induced flight delays across the country, terrible turbulence, lost luggage -- and even, in at least one instance, no hotel room waiting upon arrival in Sin City -- all led to headaches and frustrations.

It took me 12 hours to get from my Los Angeles home to my Vegas hotel room after my flight was delayed and my luggage put on the wrong plane.

"I had one of the most important meetings of my career Sunday," says Mighty Oak Entertainment president Mark O'Brien, who before heading to Orange County's John Wayne Airport almost had a change of heart and drove to Vegas instead. He stuck with his flight plans because of the bad weather and made it to his Vegas hotel nearly nine hours later, two hours after his meeting was supposed to take place there.

The good news for O'Brien? The party he was meeting also had flight woes, and all was not lost.

Once NATPE got under way, attendees quickly forgot about their travel troubles and focused on the convention at hand, including NBC Universal president and CEO Jeff Zucker's opening speech -- one of the highlights.

One thing noticeably different this go-round from recent NATPE conferences was that the "kook" quotient was a bit lower than years past. Sure, there were Dolly Parton and Prince impersonators here and there -- and someone walking around in an animal costume -- but the wackiness mostly was held in check.

As for celebrity niceties, well, that was a bit different too. While Kato Kaelin and Judge David Young enthusiastically and generously handed out free hugs in recent years, Howie Mandel -- a noted germophobe -- would only fist bump in greeting. (Although it must be said that he's a very likable person.)

Sorely missed was the late Roger King's dinner and party, an annual highlight for many. Part of the fun every year was just trying to guess who the surprise musical guest would be, a secret that King giddily would be able to keep under wraps until the last minute.

While there were concerns among many about the future of NATPE -- based on the more subdued atmosphere and a perceived decrease in foot traffic on the exhibition floor -- president and CEO Rick Feldman brushed that kind of talk aside, noting the slew of announcements made throughout the week.

No matter what changes the future holds for NATPE, one thing is a sure bet: There always will be walking. Lots and lots of walking, from one's hotel room to the suites to the convention center and back again. Which led more than one attendee this year to note with envy the more casual attire of participants in another industry event also taking place at the Mandalay Bay Resort last week: the SIA SnowSports Trade Show.

Ugg boots and flip-flops next year, anyone?