Roger King dies

The television community is mourning the death of Roger King, a television legend who helped bring the once-dormant syndication business into profitability and stability.

King suffered a stroke Friday at his Boca Raton, Fla. home and died on Saturday at the age of 63.

King World was founded by his father, Charles King in the 1960’s, which one of its first television properties was the Our Gang shorts, that featured The Little Rascals. After Charles King’s death in 1972, Roger, his brother Michael and other siblings took control of the television syndication company. Along the way, they picked up two off-network series, Branded and The Guns of Will Sonnett, and other shows.

In 1982, the company’s first first-run syndicated series, Soap World, failed.

But in 1983, Roger and Michael made a power play and acquired the nighttime syndication rights to Wheel of Fortune from Merv Griffin. The program was cleared in only 40 percent of the country on a cash basis, and did not clear New York and Chicago at first.

When Wheel became a hit in those markets that aired the show in November 1983, Wheel was finally sold to WCBS-TV in New York and WLS-TV in Chicago for prime access beginning in January 1984. The rest was history. In September 1984, Wheel became the number one syndicated show in the country, knocking out Viacom’s Family Feud.

King World found a companion piece later that year with Jeopardy!, also from Merv Griffin, and it quickly became syndication’s number two show.

Then in 1985, King World struck a deal with WLS-TV’s Oprah Winfrey to launch her successful Chicago-based morning talk show in syndication in September 1986. She knocked Donahue off to become the number one talk show in February 1987 and the rest was history (Oprah would go on to become one of television’s most popular – and richest personalities.)

1989 saw King World launch controversial news magazine Inside Edition, a show that helped make current Fox News talker Bill O’Reilly a star (he replaced the original host, David Frost.)

King World would also launch another newsmagazine called American Journal (1993-98), and also would hire Rolonda Watts to host a talk show. In 1998, it was able to land Whoopi Goldberg to be the center square in its revival of Hollywood Squares (in 2002 however, she was dropped from the show, and Squares came to an end in 2004.)

Other shows King World handled included Headline Chasers (1985-86), David Brenner’s Nightlife (1986-87), George Schlatter’s Comedy Club (1987-88), Instant Recall (1990), a revival of Candid Camera (1991-92), and The Roseanne Show (1998-2000).

King World became one powerful independent syndicator under the King Brothers. But with the business rapidly consolidating (and the departure of brother Michael from the company), the days of being independent came to an end in 1999 when the company was sold to CBS. For the first time, Roger King had a boss.

King World inherited fare from CBS’ Eyemark Entertainment syndication arm, including Martha Stewart Living, Bob Vila’s Home Again, and off-network rights to Everybody Loves Raymond, which would challenge Seinfeld for the top off-net sitcom in syndication shortly after its launch in 2001. It would syndicate other fare produced by CBS Productions, including CSI and Caroline in the City.

In 2002, King World launch a successful spin-off of Oprah with a talk show featuring Dr. Phil McGraw, which became an overnight success. Oprah’s production company would strike gold again in 2006 with the launch of The Rachael Ray Show, featuring the well-known Food Network personality and author.

King World however, did lay a couple of eggs during its’ CBS tenure, with talk show flops The Howard Stern Radio Show (1998-2001; developed originally by Eyemark), The Cindy Margolis Show (2000), The Ananda Lewis Show (2001), and Living It Up With Ali & Jack (2003).

In September 2006, CBS Corporation announced that it would merge its separate syndication companies, King World and CBS Paramount Television Distribution into one entity named CBS Television Distribution. Roger King was named the CEO of the new company, which handled over 50,000 hours of programming and over 100 television programs. The King World name was later retired.

Recently, King was out selling a new spin-off from Dr. Phil called The Doctors, which has already cleared 50 percent of the country for a September 2008 premiere, with Chicago’s WCIU-TV on board.

The legacy Roger King laid out made him a very rich and successful man in television. Hard working until the end, there is no doubt his legacy will continue.

Here’s a TV Week article from 2004 called The King World Story: Retold.