the vine


Sony off-site but in sight

In the old days at NATPE, misbehavin' took bolder forms: There was a group of carousing syndicators who got out of line during an infamous confab in Houston and were hauled off to jail overnight; there was an episode involving a couple of intoxicated station managers in New Orleans several years later.

Nowadays, it's mostly rigorous rectitude in the syndie biz, and infractions generally are of the milder, financial sort.

This go-round, the only scuttlebutt on the floor of an otherwise orderly — some said overly sober — first day of wheeling and dealing at the Mandalay Bay convention had to do with Sony. Word surfaced early that the syndicator was quietly holed up in the Four Seasons to do business, not paying its NATPE registration but blithely syphoning off prospective program buyers and advertising clients for its upcoming first-run court show "Judge Karen." (The syndicator has three other court contenders on the air.)

This after public pronouncements that the company no longer found NATPE a useful venue to do business, preferring instead to participate with a big-time booth at the recent Consumer Electronics Show, also in Las Vegas.

Phone calls to the Four Seasons revealed that the Hollywood major had rented a suite to meet with advertising clients and another presumably to meet with station program buyers. Sony Pictures Domestic TV sales exec Jeff Wolf is manning the latter suite, with neither of his bosses, Steve Mosko or John Weiser, apparently in attendance. (Mosko and Weiser have served on the board of NATPE; Weiser is a recent co-chairman of the nonprofit organization.)

Rival domestic TV syndicators were irritated about the end-run, though none felt the urge to go on the record. Several of them, after all, also have waxed hot and cold about NATPE in recent years, with CBS this time around deciding not to show up, and indeed it hasn't. Warner Bros., on the other hand, used to decry the value of spending big bucks on an outsized booth and had in the past few years decamped to the adjacent (and more or less NATPE-blessed) Mandalay Bay hotel suites to do business. But lo, this time it's back on the floor, with a spacious but relatively understated booth.

With attendance at the annual sales bazaar now down to roughly 7,000 and the entire TV business in a state of "wrenching transition," in the words of keynoter Jeff Zucker, anyone not playing strictly by the rules raises eyebrows.

"Well, it's not nice," NATPE president Rick Feldman told The Hollywood Reporter. "We're all part of the TV business. They could have been properly involved."

Then again, he wryly suggested of the Sony suits: "I'm sure they meant to send a check to NATPE's educational foundation. It's probably on the way." (Elizabeth Guider)