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WORKING WEEKEND: Rio Grande Finale for VSDA Show?

8 Jul, 2002 By: Bruce Apar

September 1983. At the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, atop Nob Hill and across from the legendary Mark Hotel, nearly 1,000 folks are gathered from all parts of the country. Flashdance is big news, Paramount sale-pricing it at $39.95 as a reprise to its stunning announcement a year prior that pegged Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan to the same breakthrough price for a videocassette movie.

It was, in fact, the fall 1982 Star Trek announcement in Dallas by the supply side's number-crunching demon, Bob Klingensmith of Paramount, that to this day distinguishes the first annual VSDA "convention" for those who were anywhere in the industry at the creation (I plead guilty). But I wasn't in Dallas that year for the christening, as were some 300 industry "pioneers." They didn't bargain to be pioneers, of course; they just smelled a good thing and drifted in its direction, like bees to flowers.

There was a video retailing conference held prior to Dallas, convened by NARM in 1981 (if memory serves) in New York City, hometown of Video Shack owner and VSDA co-founder Arthur Morowitz. There, in a modest-sized hotel function room, the first VSDA awards ceremony on record took place, under the stewardship of "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" host Robin Leach.

But it is San Francisco that is my benchmark for the genesis of the VSDA convention as we came to know and love it, and look forward to it eagerly, year after year. Who can forget the so-cool RCA/Columbia music performances by the likes of Ray Charles and Dionne Warwick. The showstopping Disney dinners with Aladdin and his magic carpet sailing over 4,000 ga-ga attendees and their families in the cavernous Hilton Convention Center. We fondly remember having the run of Universal Studios theme park, or Paramount's closing down Fremont Street in downtown Vegas for a private VSDA-only party. The popular, perennial dance parties I am proud to have started in 1985 in Washington, D.C., with one at the original MGM Grand -- starring Hulk Hogan -- resulting in a hotel bill handed to me the next morning for broken chandeliers. And then there's the unforgettable appearance of Steven Spielberg, walking on stage to a thunderous ovation that left my knees wobbly.

At that San Francisco show 19 years ago, the turnout exceeded expectations to the point that an overflow of convention-goers had to be turned away from a luncheon sponsored by Vestron. It got off to a memorable start when the entertainer – a comedian named George Carlin – began with his back to the audience, facing the wall. He was a hit.

Paramount was giddy over the 160,000-plus copies it shipped of Flashdance that it hosted a Frisco disco party where the energy level presaged the breakout, triple- and double-digit growth that defined the ecstatic ‘80s for the video industry.

But that was then, this is now. Fittingly, George Carlin is back at the VSDA show, providing a bookend-like symmetry to this long-running event. And Sly Stallone – my old college classmate who wouldn't know me if he dead-lifted me 100 times training for his next film – also will be there next week at the Rio Hotel in Vegas, honored as Action Star of the Millennium. We wonder what other contenders for the title – like Hannibal, Alexander the Great, Napoleon and Genghis Khan, to name a few – think of that!

Alas, for the first time since I missed the Dallas inaugural event, I won't be at the VSDA show next week. Neither will my favorite Brit wit, "Mad" Michael Senker, missing his first VSDA show in 15 years. We don't know any better than the next person how the show will turn out, or what will become of it after this year. We do know the home video business as we knew it is no more, having provided a 20-year inventory of memories that will last a lifetime.

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