The King of the Jungle
December 10, 2007 2:09 PM
Roger King died Saturday. If the lion is king of the jungle, then King was the lion of the television jungle. Roger was my boss. I think I only called him Mr. King once. He was—to everyone in the business—Roger. And to everyone in the business, Roger King was an icon. To me, he was more than that. I looked upon him as a friend. Read on ...
Roger hired me 13 years ago to become anchor of his baby: “Inside Edition.” It was a hire that was made between the first and second courses of a lunch we shared at New York’s 21 Club. It was Roger, his brother and partner Michael King, and me. I’d already been through several layers of interviews with King World brass and this was the final hurdle. After a few minutes of talk, Roger said to Michael, “Let’s go to the bathroom.” Michael said, “But I don’t need to go!” To which Roger insisted, “Yeah you do—come on.” When they returned, Roger offered me the job.
Roger was intense about the business and intensely proud: of his TV shows, of his ability to sell any show to anyone, of his encyclopedic knowledge of quarter-hour share and ratings points in obscure markets, and of his family. Especially his family. His exuberant wife, Raemali, and his adored daughters, especially my friend Kelly.
Early in my King World career, I had the pleasure of presenting to Roger an award for his father, the late Charles King, for his pioneering work in making the television syndication business the mega-giant it is. From the episodes of “Little Rascals” that Mr. King first sold, Roger and Michal grew the business by acquiring the rights to “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy!” … and the rest was television history. Roger shied away from accepting awards, but this one he happily accepted because it honored his father.
Later that evening, Roger regaled me with tales of the old days starting out. I retired that night impressed with the work ethic that was behind the company’s success and delighted with the humor that energized the man. God, Roger was funny!
When I first joined King World, I was at the NATPE programmers convention with my newborn baby in tow. Roger asked me to come up to his suite to meet an important station head—“and bring the baby,” I was ordered. Dutifully, I strollered up to the penthouse level of the Las Vegas Hilton and met the TV executive (who, as predicted, melted at the sight of a newborn baby). Having sufficiently buttered up the businessman, Roger then leaned down and whispered in my ear, “You better leave now—it’s going to get ugly.” Roger was going in for the kill—or sale. I knew he’d get the deal on his terms!
Roger’s list of successful shows is long. But there is only one show that was totally his creation: “Inside Edition.” Roger conceived the show and launched it in just months.
In a few weeks, we will mark the show’s 20th anniversary. “Inside Edition” is the nation’s longest-running syndicated newsmagazine, grabbing more than 5 million viewers daily—none more dedicated than Roger.
With Roger’s passing, television has lost a lion. No one was a fiercer competitor. No one was a more passionate salesman. Or passionate in general. There was nothing halfway about Roger King. He lived his life full-out, often in the red zone. He worked hard, partied hard, loved hard and lived hard. And now, his death is hard.
Hard for those of us who now have to say goodbye. When a man larger than life leaves this world, it leaves a larger-than-normal-sized hole.
In the jungle of television, Roger was the King. Now the lion sleeps. Roger—sleep well. You are missed already.