It Was A Bigger Deal Then

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It doesn't really feel like the week before the Western Show, but it is. It's a short week, Thanksgiving is just up ahead, and then comes another December week on the West Coast.

It feels different because the show, as we all know, is a lot smaller than it used to be. Not quite so many programmer shindigs, or show-floor shenanigans. Or as many attendees, for that matter.

The last National Show in New Orleans was small but felt productive, so Western might be fine this way, too — for those able to go. Especially for those who just love technology.

As I dip donut into coffee, onward come remembrances of Western Shows past. For Multichannel News
staffers, mostly based in New York, the images come back with a little jet-lag haze, a little residual adrenaline from producing the show daily while simultaneously dealing with East Coast deadlines for the magazine.

That chemistry might make the funny and surreal moments seem a little more so. The Friday brunch was usually a highlight. The one in 1994 — my first — featured Penn & Teller's Penn Jillette (wearing a leather jacket over a Team Satan 666 T-shirt), Liberty Media Group's Peter Barton and America Online Inc.'s Ted Leonsis. Only later did we learn Jillette, a little provoked by something Barton said when they met backstage, replied with a request for "a sex act illegal in several states," as then-MCNer John Higgins reported.

Barton was uncharacteristically quiet on that panel. Again, if memory serves.

The other Ted — Turner — was usually the best at getting real national headlines out of Anaheim, like in 1995 when he said Cable News Network would squash the oncoming Fox News Channel. Actually, he said he'd squish Rupert like a bug. (Who's laughing at that line now?)

Last year, he astutely remarked that the Anaheim show floor had as many holes in it as Kosovo.

My boss, whose column rotates in this space, says her favorite memories include the "Pineapple Express" rainstorm in, we think, 1996. On a panel at that show, Our Current Mayor, Mike Bloomberg, praised then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani for championing Rupert's Fox News Channel in New York. (I guess payback came five years later, when Rudy endorsed Mike into office.)

The Western Show was a pretty good barometer of the times. In 1993, Bell Atlantic Corp. CEO Ray Smith talked about how video stores faced tough times ahead, and how Roseanne
watchers would soon be doing that whenever they wanted. The latter might come true soon, but his company (or its successor, Verizon Communications) won't be helping them.

A year later, there was John Malone, whose Tele-Communications Inc. was supposed to merge with Smith's Bell Atlantic, but didn't. He was saying the $300 million Smith and his telco allies ponied up for a video venture would "disappear like water in the desert sands." He was right that time.

According to a compilation from four years ago, Turner foreshadowed the formation of CNN at the 1978 Western Show. In 1994, Game Show Network launched; in 1996, it was CNN/Sports Illustrated's turn. Last year, video-gamer network G4 came out of Comcast's closet.

This year, Comcast is king and Brian Roberts is the big name.

Somehow, I don't think he'll use the verb squish.

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