Media X: Turn It Up
Thing is, NATPE was never useful to anybody as a serious source of industry insight. What made it worth going to was its role as a glorified bazaar hawking talk shows hosted by D-listers and direct-to-DVD-quality adventure series instead of Iranian rugs.
But what a great glorified bazaar.
Not only that, NATPE treated journalists like the whores we are. I didn't see much over-the-top revelry, which is regrettable. (Although I did black out for a couple days one year. I don't remember why, but Wayne Friedman was involved.) Still, what NATPE lacked in table dancing and gutter diving, it more than made up for in swag--which was magnificent.
I got action figures. I got autographs. I met Adam West, who I think was drunk.
There was free food. Free pens. Free T-shirts. Free key chains.
There were telephones shaped like the castle at Disneyland. Discovery Channel pith helmets. A "Seinfeld" tote bag.
It was epic.
My favorite NATPE spoil was a framed, autographed photo of Lucy Lawless as Xena. She signed it for my kid: "My darling Alex," she wrote. I stood next to her while she did it, grinning like an idiot because I was at eye level with her warrior princess breasts.
That's as close as I'm ever going to get to Heaven.
I think NATPE is an appropriate stand-in for the TV industry in general these days. No longer the hippest guy in the room, it faces monumental, many would say existential challenges. No more time for frivolity or superficiality. Television is at death's door.
Television -- broadcast, cable, syndicated -- are not newspapers or record companies. Those things really are dying, mostly because they're run by pencil dicks. TV is run by assholes, sure, but they're smart assholes. They've seen the bloodshed the digital hordes unleashed on the music and print industries, and they're determined not to share the same fate.
The lords of television accept that digital is king, and they've done a good job of acting on that knowledge. No, they can't make money on Internet television yet, whether streaming shows or producing Web-exclusive content. But they've made some good moves -- and they'll figure it out sooner or later.
It's clear that people really like watching television on their computers, so the future is far from bleak. I know, I know, the business model, for the networks, at least, is FUBAR. But they know that, too, and have shown themselves more than willing to tinker until they get a new one that makes sense.
So I say NATPE should stop trying to be useful and go back to misbehaving like mad, selling televised swill and showering journalists with swag until they gag. And the rest of television should do the same.
Because if there's a nuclear war, the only things that will survive are cockroaches and the upfront.