Jim Mullen's Hot Sheet

Show Storm

Can too many naked chefs spoil a convention? Our brave columnist investigates how a syndicated TV series is born.

I always wondered why television isn't as good as it could be. Where were the quality programs I longed for: World Monkey Federation, Bikini Food Fight Trauma Center, Mama Mia! -- the Matt LeBlanc Friends spin-off where he moves in with his Brooklyn cop father, Tony Danza?

Then I heard rumors of a TV wonderland where hundreds of shows as good as mine are shopped to TV executives. Each January, the National Association of Television Program Executives (NATPE) convention draws the unheralded geniuses of the syndication industry. More than 100 people flew to New Orleans just to enter NATPE's Pitch Me! contest, where they were given 60 seconds to sell their TV idea to a panel of judges, who could gong them off the stage. This occurred in front of an audience, hosted -- in order to make this even more humiliating -- by the guy who does the syndicated version of Weakest Link. The three winners would be flown to L.A. to pitch their ideas in front of real network execs. I assume this was all taped for a reality show.

I had already met many of the contestants, since some had purchased booths on the convention floor, which had been pretty much abandoned by the big companies. The first booth I saw was for Barely Cooking, a show that I was told would start appearing on Canada's Sextv network Feb. 16. Barely Cooking mainly consisted of two scantily clad women and two scantily clad men cooking, which seemed as brilliant as it was dangerous.

My excitement waned, however, when I saw a booth 20 feet away where Kate Gibbs and Unsil O were pitching a show called Hot in the Kitchen, in which two women clad themselves scantily and cook. Kate said she wasn't intimidated by the Barely Cooking people because ''we're less naked cooking and more about relationships,'' but she did keep talking about how large the breasts were on one of the Barely Cooking hosts.

I befriended the Hot in the Kitchen women, not only because of their plucky go-getterness, but because they could cook, which was more than magician Franz Harary had going for him. Harary, however, did give me a lot of unrequested relationship advice, the wisest of which involved not sleeping with your assistants, since they can give your magic secrets to the competition. I told him I'd been there in my own way and we high-fived.

I got some more advice from Dr. Seduction, a 50-year-old Italian relationship expert wearing a blazer decorated with four opened condoms pinned to it. The doctor just opened a disco/Internet cafe/conference center/Italian restaurant/Chinese restaurant inside a 122-yard condom near Naples. He told me he's slept with more than 230 women. ''It's not much,'' he said. ''I started when I was 16. It's just seven relationships a year.'' Seven a year is pretty impressive when you're wearing a jacket with condoms on it.

I also met Denise Brown, sister of Nicole Brown Simpson, and the host of Predators, a show about stalkers and their victims. I told Denise I was going to San Diego that weekend, where she lives, and she gave me her number. I think Denise needs to pay more attention to her own show.

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