When you get down to it, the heart and soul of the NATPE experience are people like Elaine Walton of Wilmington, N.C.
Walton, who describes herself as "an entrepreneur who likes adventure," pitched her tiny tent on the exhibition floor this year in the hopes of selling someone on the promise of her "next hit sitcom," a comedy dubbed "Baby Blues," about a competing set of newlywed couples in Wilmington and their parents who are pushing hard for "grandbabies."
Walton and her partner Bud Dowdey have shot a 23-minute pilot for "Baby Blues," in high-def "with three cameras." She's got the whole package ready to be wrapped up in a bow for some network programming exec, "complete with original lyrics and music and future show synopsis," plus plans for ancillary merchandise including a line of clothing.
Walton was showing off her baby to anyone who passed by her shoe box-size booth tucked in between two other unknown shingles in the "independent producers pavilion" housed in the shadow of NBC Universal's fort in the middle of the floor. Walton pressed a "Baby Blues" T-shirt into my hand before I could politely decline.
What drives people like Elaine Walton? What makes them write, cast and shoot their vision of what a good family comedy should be (tagline: "Diabolical Nana-wannabees will stop at nothing to have grandbabies"), and then go so far as to book square footage at an industry confab in the hopes of striking gold?
"Oh, we're ready to go on the air," Walton said when I asked if she'd financed the production herself.
Walton describes her interests as ranging from restaurants to classic car restoration to creating a sitcom. "Entering the television and film industry is a new & exciting road to travel," as it's explained in the "Baby Blues" brochure she handed me along with the shirt.
The drive of Elaine Walton and her ilk what made NATPE so much fun, and the syndication business such a wild and woolly marketplace way back in the day. Things are much more buttoned-up these days in all aspects of the TV business, but on some level we all like to believe that there's room, even in the land of the giants, for the little guy or gal with the Great Idea to rise on his or her own merits.
We may roll our eyes at Walton's seemingly quixotic bid to get "Baby Blues" on the air (and the majors may resent having to subsidize the small-fry NATPE exhibitors with the prices they pay for booth space and hotel exhibition suites, but where would the biz be without her kind. She's the kind of startup mentality that at once reinforces how mega the majors are, but also how much the success or failure of a TV program often comes down to ]individual inspiration and perspiration. I'm glad I took a minute to chat with Elaine. I'm glad I took the shirt.