Bidding Anaheim Adieu

It would have been smarmy, but Muzak could have piped in a continuous loop of "The Way We Were" over the events of the 36th Western Show.

The halls of this farewell show were filled with only 6,150 attendees, some redolent with nostalgic musings. A few reminisced about the days when the show oozed with Tinseltown glitz — the billboards American Movie Classics would post on Convention Way; the black, white and gray limos lined up outside the Hilton and Marriott hotels; the private parties where the only revelers inside Disneyland were cable executives.

Others remembered the stunts, like the vinyl sheet mimicking the chalk outline of a dead body, placed in rooms by Comedy Central, but which somehow got placed in the room of a soon-to-become hysterical non-cable businessman, groggy after his flight from Japan.

"It was the stocking-stuffer show," said Don Mathison, president of Broadband Solutions Group, a cable consulting firm in Fairfax, Va.

Mathison — an MSO lifer at outfits like Times Mirror Cable, Colony Communications and Media General Corp. — said he first arrived in 1970. This year, he said, he missed the old opportunities to learn more about new programming, and was a little sad not to have met up with out-of-town colleagues when he dined out in Laguna Beach on Thursday.

"I saw no one, it was very depressing," he said, with a laugh.

Kudos For Kaitz

"I think maybe [the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing] will fill the void and come up with opportunities to rally people, because the lessons learned are extraordinary, the panels are valuable, the participants share a lot of important information," Mathison said.

Others said the Consumer Electronics Show in January, an increasingly important venue for cable executives, would fill some of the time gap. Other executives suggested that the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers should move their January meeting to December to assume the void left by The Western Show.

Before walking away from Western for the last time, though, veterans were showered with kudos for years of hard work. For instance, Cable Television Laboratories Inc. honored outgoing California Cable Telecommunications Association president Spencer Kaitz and YAS Broadband Ventures LLC founder and CEO Rouzbeh Yassini. The latter received a tribute from Comcast Corp. chairman Brian Roberts for his pioneering work on the Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification standard, which created the now $15 billion cable-modem business.

Kaitz's work with CCTA and the diversity-focused Walter Kaitz Foundation was lauded in each venue where he took the stage, from Court TV's Everyday Heroes Luncheon to his own chairman's reception, where he received a statuette from the Television Week trade publication.

Lost In Space

Things were less laudatory on the exhibit floor. The CCTA retired its exhibit hall waiting list with this show, so there were some new vendors. But the most traffic was around the old standby displays, such as those by Motorola Inc.

There, Motorola Broadband Communications Sector director of trade shows Ginny Morris — a 30-year industry veteran who attended her first Western Show in 1970 — waxed somewhat nostalgic last Thursday.

Yet, she didn't suggest that the CCTA should continue its annual convention.

"It's time. It's time to move on," Morry said. "It was very successful through 2000. It's changed. The market has changed — you have three big customers and everything has changed."

Not far from Motorola's booth, Intrigue Technologies Inc. CEO Bryan McLeod, at his first Western Show, was pitching the company's Harmony Remote products. He saw much less traffic at the Western Show than at other conventions, including the Cable-Tec Expo and the Consumer Electronics Show.

"It's slower than most consumer-electronics trade shows, quite a bit slower," he said.

Floor walkers weren't the only thing absent: Tchotkes were few and far between, and the tote bags were made of plastic. The most frequently seen premium: a yellow walking cane-length pole, grounded on both ends, for moving overhead plant without a ladder.

When one cane-owner was asked how he hoped to get his stick on a plane home, he just shrugged and said, "But it's the only thing out there."

Dining And Topiary

While the exhibit floor reflected a fraction of the activity and size of its predecessor shows, certain technical and finance-oriented sessions played before packed rooms.

They tended to reflect some of the important strategic initiatives — a voice-over-Internet protocol panel on Wednesday, for example, and a Thursday afternoon panel on interactive program guides, drew standing-room only crowds.

Attendees said that what the show might have been lacking in quantity it made up for in quality. But, they added, the high-profile panelists were only there because it was the last Western Show and speakers had been personally solicited to participate.

"It's time to end. Things change," said one California operating veteran.

Executives talked about the early days, when cable and other technologies were young. Indeed, some remembered writing up their purchase orders by hand. If they were lucky, the final version would be pecked out on a Selectric typewriter.

Others talked of things they will never forget, but will not miss. Veterans celebrated the fact they will never again be compelled to frequent Anaheim's "fine" dining establishments, jokingly voting Thee White House and Mr. Stox winners of the "least likely to ever see return cable business."

Out of palate exhaustion, in recent years execs have fled to Laguna Beach, Orange and Newport Beach in search of more creative cuisine and wine cellars.

They will not miss the early accommodations at places like the Jolly Roger Motel (the name elicited a collective groan of recognition at a party Tuesday night at John Sie's house), the Inn of Tomorrow or the Inn at the Park. Nor will they miss the tendency, in the 1970s and 1980s, for Anaheim shrubbery to be shaped into topiary animals.

"They seemed to loom up at you when you were walking home drunk after an HBO party," said one vet.

Kent Gibbons and Steve Donohue contributed to this story.