Few local TV show producers going to NATPE 2005 to promote concepts, shows to TV executives

The annual gathering of the National Assn. of TV Program Executives (NATPE) in Las Vegas, Jan. 25-27 is where the deals go down. It’s the center hub for the marriage of shows with buyers and the creation of valuable relationships inside the television business world.

This begs the question, where is Chicago?

“I’ve always been amazed that more Chicago companies don’t go to NATPE,” said Tom Fletcher, VP/marketing Fletcher Chicago and a sitting member of NATPE’s HDTV steering committee. “It’s a chance to see the marketplace, to make the contacts and get your program seen.”

On the surface, the reasons so many Chicago producers and companies opt out of the conference seem plausible. For one, it’s not cheap.

Without a NATPE membership, an individual admission costs $875. Pre-registering non-members saved $100. NATPE member advance registration cost $525, with a door admission cost of $625. The best deals go to student admissions at $110 and professors and teachers at $100. Membership to NATPE costs $150 for an individual, $475 for a company, and $95 for an educational membership.

And that’s just to get in.

The smallest bare essential booth exhibition spaces start at $2,500, and triple that amount for the starting suite rental rates. Add to that the cost of media materials, hotels and flights, and wining and dining executives and buyers. It adds up.

Fletcher also noted recent key changes in the conference structure that could prove an even bigger challenge for conference attendees looking to network.

“The big vendors pulled off the floor a few years ago,” said Fletcher. He explained that while the big players like Universal and Paramount had set up small booths, they also rented entire floors at the hotel to “create a living room environment” for buyers. Fletcher stressed, “You need to have that networking opportunity that puts people in one room.”

Still, Chicago won’t be entirely unrepresented at NATPE 2005. A few local companies are braving the costs and other challenges to get their shows on the air.

Beth Aldrich returns to the conference for the second consecutive year. Owner of the Chicago-based In Her Shoes, LLC, Aldrich produces “For Her Information,” a lifestyle show that aired its first season in 2004 on Chicago’s PAX Television Network.

“Last year I attended with nothing but an idea about the show,” said Aldrich. “After networking and meeting so many wonderfully helpful people, I gained additional confidence and knowledge about what it takes to produce a show that could actually be aired on television.”

Aldrich looks to produce the second season in HD, and she’s attending NATPE with the objective of attracting more buyers, get leads for show placement and ideally to land a network deal. Access didn’t seem to be a problem for her.

“Last year I was surprised at how many meetings I was able to land with many major players,” said Aldrich. “Everyone was very open to finding the next new thing. Everyone was there to find shows or sell existing shows, so I really felt like I fit in. There wasn’t a lot of intimidation, as I would’ve thought. Just people trying to get the job done.”

Michael Bennett is executive producer of “Choices,” a concept show hosted by executive recruiter Ginny Clarke of Spencer Stuart. “Choices,” a proposed 26-episode series to be produced in Chicago, will focus on helping people reach their maximum professional potential by featuring one-on-one conversations between Clarke and successful individuals from around the globe.

“There’s not a whole lot out on television that’s geared to improving your life professionally,” said Bennett. “Our plan is to get people from different walks of life to talk about the choices they’ve made.”

Bennett, who has a business background, found his way into television by way of an offer to work as a producer on Ch. 26’s “North Halsted,” which led to his association with Clarke. His NATPE objective is to land a distributor for “Choices.”

Bennett will not exhibit at NATPE. He chooses instead to focus on pre-established meetings with executives.

“I have already targeted executive producers and have meetings set up to pitch the show,” he said, adding that interest in “Choices” is very high. “I’ve gotten a lot of calls and questions in the past few weeks. I think that NATPE will be a very valuable resource.”

NATPE 2005 takes place at the Mandalay Bay Hotel & Convention Center in Las Vegas. www.natpe.org