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3 Things We Learned From NATPE 2010

Jeff Gaspin chokes up, optimism about broadcast ads and the hottest damn steakhouse in town

NATPE ain’t what it used to be, but the annual convention of TV programmers still has the ability to surprise — and even educate.

Three things we’ve learned so far from two days at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas:

Jeff Gaspin is coming to terms with emotions — both his own and others.

NBC Universal TV’s entertainment chairman said Tuesday that he might not have fully factored in the role of human feelings in the whole Conan-Leno imbroglio of the past two weeks.

"I underestimated the emotions of what went on," Gaspin told attendees of this year’s NATPE powwow in Las Vegas. "I underestimated the emotional impact it would have on Conan."

Gaspin spent several minutes responding to queries about LateNightCrisis2010, and most of his answers were rehashes of things he’s said before in recent days. One new insight: Gaspin said that while he never expected his late-night transition plan to remain a secret, "the speed with which these things happen" did surprise him.

Not much big news out of Gaspin’s appearance — we’re not complaining — but Gaspin did say he expects as much as 45 percent of NBC’s primetime development slate this year will come from outside studios. Given the network’s plan to produce up to 20 pilots this year, that’s no surprise, since Universal Media Studios would be hard-pressed to produce such a heavy output on its own.

Gaspin also admitted that NBCU has been too focused on cable in recent years. "We probably took a little too much out of the broadcast business to invest in businesses we thought were more robust," he said.

Gaspin faced emotions in another way Monday, when he was honored with NATPE’s annual Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Award. At the end of his acceptance speech, he seemed genuinely choked up — something you don’t often see from network suits in public. 

Ad titan Irwin Gotlieb, who runs media buying giant Irwin Gotlieb and might be called the Oracle of Madison Avenue, is an optimist. 

"There will be a significant re-commitment to broadcast TV," Gotlieb told attendees, offering some good news to embattled broadcasters.

The caveat: Those dollars will not be spent "in the way (they) exist today."

While some MadAve insiders have been sounding the death knell for TV advertising, Gotlieb insisted broadcast TV in particular remains a highly effective tool for advertisers and predicted technological advancements would eventually make up for the decline in viewership caused by audience fragmentation.

"The challenge for broadcast TV is to stem the erosion in revenues until such time as the declines can be reversed," he said, adding that it could be two or three more years before personalized ads and other tech advances start making up for lower ad rates.

Strip Steak, Michael Mina’s super deluxe steakhouse at Mandalay Bay, was Monday’s hot spot of choice for NATPE’s power elite.

TV MoJoe, attending a private dinner thrown by NBCU, spotted big shots everywhere we turned.

David E. Kelley, in town to accept a Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Award, enjoyed a meal with his agent Rick Rosen, manager Marty Adelstein, Warner Bros. TV chief Peter Roth (who’s looking fit and in fighting form, by the way) and producer Ross Fineman.

A few tables over, Jeff Gaspin celebrated his Legacy Award with his wife, as well as grizzled LateNightCrisis2010 veteran Marc Graboff and Warner Bros. TV’s Bruce Rosenblum.

The coolest sighting of the night? Hugh Laurie enjoying a late-night cut of meat with "House" producer Katie Jacobs. They were still dining around 11:30 p.m.