The latest news from the TV beat -- Details from the National Association of Television Program Executives convention

By Joe Flint
February 05, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

Wanna know what kind of year it’s been in the syndication business? Just check out the bands that the production companies hire for their parties at the annual NATPE (the National Association of Television Program Executives) convention. Last year, Oprah producers King World had Elton John play the Superdome. This year, it was ex-Doobie Brother Michael McDonald entertaining at a small New Orleans club. Paramount went from red-hot Brian Setzer to geezer-lite Hall &amp Oates.

Such are the wages of syndie sin after a year that’s seen Roseanne’s and Howie Mandel’s chat shows struggle, Love Connection hang by a thread, and The Magic Hour disappear altogether. But at NATPE there’s always hope — this is where all the reruns, talk shows, action hours, and game shows get hawked. Walking the convention floor you can find David Spade smiling patiently for photographers as he promotes the upcoming rerun sale of Just Shoot Me, while Drew Carey, whose show starts in reruns this fall, answers questions about his treatment at the hands of the National Enquirer from (of all shows) Hard Copy. There’s Tia Carrere, surrounded by not one but four of her United Talent agents, pushing her new show Relic Hunter, in which she plays a brilliant archaeologist who also happens to be a martial-arts expert (yeah, there are lots of those out there). Even Kiss are here, thinking beyond the theatrical release of their New Line movie, Detroit Rock City. (Someone is dispatched to procure straws, lest the boys leave black lipstick rings on their Snapple bottles.)

While more than 30 new shows are getting a launch at NATPE, only a handful will stick. The hot picks for this fall include Warner Bros.’ new talker with rapper-actress Queen Latifah. As the convention began, her show had already been picked up in 75 percent of the country. King World’s Martin Short talk show is considered another potential hit. Short seems to know what makes a good host. ”If I can fake being interested, I’ve got at least six weeks,” he jokes. The problem may be finding the show a slot — a problem King World could solve by pulling the plug on The Roseanne Show.

Here’s another tip: Court shows aren’t going away any time soon. Warner Bros. is offering up Judge Greg Mathis, an hour-long effort hosted by the 36-year-old Detroit judge, a former gang member whose mother extracted a vow on her deathbed that he turn his life around. And Twentieth TV is bringing back Divorce Court with Los Angeles judge Mablean Ephriam. Is there room for six court shows? No, says Jon Mandel, a media buyer at Grey Advertising. Then why so many? ”It’s a wonderful business; if something works, everyone follows it.”

The syndication business can also be a good barometer of how far one’s star has fallen. Martin Sheen is starring with Traci Lords in D.R.E.A.M. Team, an hour-long action series about supermodel spies. Shouldn’t Charlie Sheen be starring in that?