They were still hanging the wall decor last week at the new Century City headquarters of the National Assn. of Television Program Executives--framed magazine ads touting such broadcasting masterworks as "The Mystery of Al Capone's Vaults," "Soul Train," "At the Movies" and the cartoon adventures of GI Joe.
As art, the ads may outclass the programs. But they are apt reminders of the association's bread and butter: syndicated television programming that fills the schedules of hundreds of independent stations and an increasing share of viewing hours on network affiliates and overseas channels.
The 1,700-member trade group constitutes the world's leading marketplace for TV programming. Its glitzy annual convention, attended by 8,000 buyers and sellers from around the globe, is Hollywood's premier contact point with the station executives whose programming decisions determine what television viewers get to watch. Its catalogue of available programs is the industry bible.
Like most of the major players in the television business, the group was formed on the East Coast and headquartered in New York. But while the three major networks still have their corporate offices in Manhattan, the creative heartbeat of the industry--and, increasingly, its financial pulse--now reside in Southern California.
So, 25 years after it was founded by five TV station program directors, the nonprofit group is joining the westward migration, moving its headquarters from New York to Los Angeles to be closer to the producers and distributors of the goods that are its primary concern.
"We came to the conclusion that if we're going to service the membership of this organization, we're going to have to be next to the action," said A. Philip Corvo, the one-time staff announcer who clambered up the rungs of local television before becoming executive director of the association five years ago. "We have to be where the programs are being produced, understanding information about where programming is going."
Most Syndicators in L.A.
The station executives in the association's membership are scattered through all 214 local television markets in the United States. But 18 of the 20 largest syndicators are headquartered in the Los Angeles area, Corvo said last week, and the syndicators have played an increasingly important role in the group--and in the television industry as a whole--over the years.
"The syndicators are producing their own programs, not just syndicating a product," explained Deborah McDermott, station manager of WKRN-TV in Nashville and president of the organization. "The majority of those programs are being produced out of Los Angeles. They may go on location someplace else, but the heart of what's going on is really in L.A."
It was not always so. In the early days of television, Manhattan was the industry's corporate home and a substantial amount of production and creative talent was New York-based as well, Corvo noted. But as TV became a film and later a tape medium, the television community--first its creative side and later its administrative ranks--began shifting its operations to Los Angeles.
Perhaps belatedly, the program executives' group has joined the trend.
"We have to be at the place where the decision-making is," Corvo said.
(Similar reasoning has prompted a sister group, the 1,800-member Broadcast Promotion & Marketing Executives, to choose Los Angeles as its base, after 33 years in which its operations were dispersed from Southern California to Lancaster, Pa., according to Executive Director Lance Webster. The marketing association's new Hollywood office is scheduled to open Oct. 26.)
Making the Phone Obsolete
Hoping to take advantage of its new proximity to the entertainment industry's creative core, the National Assn. of Television Program Executives is launching an ambitious project of developing a computer network that will place comprehensive, up-to-date data about program availability at the fingertips of every TV executive with a personal computer and a modem.
"You won't have to get on a telephone to call 28,000 people to know what's available," said Corvo, formerly program director at KGTV Channel 10 in San Diego.
The annual program conference--where station executives get to talk business with Hollywood's biggest stars--will remain the association's primary mechanism for exchanging information about TV shows, Corvo said. But he predicted that the on-line service will aid the quick programming changes that have become necessary as the dollar value of each rating point has escalated.
"If you have a show that falls out on you at 6 at night or 7 at night or 4 in the afternoon, we're talking about a lot of money," Corvo said.
The group also has plans to expand its publications division and establish a research department for members, he said. Its educational foundation sponsors national and regional seminars for broadcasters and students, places communications professors in internships at television stations, conducts an international exchange program with British broadcasters and annually honors locally originated television shows with the Iris Hall of Fame Awards.
Ironically, the annual convention--scheduled for Houston, New Orleans and San Francisco in coming years--won't be following the association to Los Angeles. "There's no convention hall big enough for us," Corvo said.