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Will buyers be at NATPE?

At least part of the reason major syndicators may be exiting the NATPE exhibit floor in January and heading for the Venetian Hotel is the fear that the major station groups won't be sending many executives to Las Vegas anyway.

Syndication insiders say Tribune and the Fox O&O/Chris-Craft station groups are said to be sharply cutting back the number of folks they typically take to the show. Those station groups are vitally important to syndicators because their schedules typically have more room for syndicated series than traditional network affiliates.

At press time, Tribune wasn't commenting. A Fox spokeswoman said it's "still to be determined" what its stations' exact presence will be, but it does appear that fewer executives will be going.

A key reason Tribune Entertainment, one of the last floor holdouts, may eventually abandon the convention hall is, "without a doubt," the expected absence of station executives, says CEO and current NATPE board member Dick Askin. "The flight from the floor is not an indictment of NATPE," he insists. "It's a reflection of market conditions."

NBC Enterprises and FremantleMedia recently started rethinking their floor decisions.

Hearst-Argyle is said to be taking about 10 top executives, the usual number.

Deborah McDermott, executive vice president of operations at Young Broadcasting, is still taking a contingent of executives, but she notes that the NATPE programming pipeline "looks pretty dry."

When stations don't have funds, it's probably not the best time to parade product anyway. Twentieth Television is apparently keeping quiet on Malcolm in the Middle, a hot off-net property that would seem a NATPE 2002 highlight.

"Clearly, you don't want to bring out a show when the economics are this bad," says studio chief Bob Cook of the show's 2003 availability.

At any other time, sources say, Columbia TriStar would be seriously hawking its blue-chip sitcom King of Queens,
also coming up in 2003. It could ride on the coattails of this fall's promising syndication launch of Everybody Loves Raymond;
the two shows are CBS Monday-night kingpins.

"But no one is going to pay any kind of money," says a station source.