Mel's Diner: Bob Madden
May 4, 2007 1:49 PM
Who: Bob Madden, president-chief operating officer, CBS Television Distribution
When: Wednesday, April 18, lunch
Where: Pizzeria Mozza, Los Angeles
The Dish: Good things happen when Bob Madden eats pizza.
Bob has been referred to as the third King brother, having worked with the syndication veterans/legends/brothers Roger and Michael King for more than two decades. So I hoped if I got him drunk on high-end pizza he would spill an on-the-record anecdote or two.
Bless those pies, that is what he did.
Lots of tales have been told about the legendary King family, who made many waves while distributing “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” “Dr. Phil,” “Wheel of Fortune,” “Jeopardy!” and “Inside Edition” forever and ever. Bob has been there firsthand for many of them.
One of my favorites I’ve heard involves Roger paying guys in the bathroom line at a casino $1,000 each to allow him to cut in front of them.
The Kings “have done many exciting things, but their reputation is exaggerated,” Bob said. “Deep down, they’re just brilliant, good men.”
They spent a lot of time “knocking on doors and sitting in general managers’ offices when no one would hear them,” he said. They are “once-in-a-lifetime characters. … The opportunity to be with legends like them is rare.”
Among the things Bob has been there for was the $2.5 billion sale of King World to CBS in 1999. And he was there last September when CBS Corp. created CBS Television Distribution Group, which combined CBS Paramount Domestic Television, King World and CBS Paramount International Television into one unit. Bob and John Nogawski both were given the titles of president-COO of the new division. Roger King, who Bob says still gets excited “about the sale of any item,” is CEO.
When Bob told me how he first hooked up with the Kings, I thought, Sure, I imagine that would be exactly how he became their consigliere.
In 1985, Bob had a thriving divorce law business in Beverly Hills. Michael King came to him for some legal help buying a home in Malibu. They had plans to go out to dinner one night to talk shop, but when Michael showed up at Bob’s house they decided instead to order in—imagine this—pizza.
They also shared a few cocktails. Michael told Bob about Oprah Winfrey and at one point, probably early the next day, Bob agreed to go work with them.
The next day (er, maybe later that morning?), Bob began extracting himself from 100 divorce cases. It took him 60 days (He still keeps his legal license up.) He worked for the Kings personally for 11 years; then in 1996, when the COO of King World Productions left the company, Bob replaced him.
Bob now is eyeing development for the 2008-09 season. The company—which now includes all that King World had plus such shows as “Entertainment Tonight” and “Judge Judy,” something like 70,000 hours total—is considering many projects, including two game shows with Sony, “Combination Lock” and “Joker’s Wild.”
But with eight of the top 10 shows in syndication, CBS isn’t desperate to launch another one. All new projects have to meet three criteria: Be well-produced, well-sold (strong time slots, stations), and profitable.
Depending how development goes for next year, that means CBS “could have none or 10,” Bob said.
Dined On: Bob Madden and I both visited this restaurant once before. But his Mozza “first” is a way better story than mine.
No disrespect, of course, to NATPE boss Rick Feldman, who joined me there in March.
It’s just that Bob dined with “Everybody Loves Raymond” creator Phil Rosenthal there a year ago, before it was open, construction was complete or the delish menu was set. Before, ahem, “everybody” else—and at Phil’s suggestion. (Phil, who’s also passionate about food, is an investor in Mozza as well as Jar in L.A.).
During Bob’s first meal at Mozza, restaurateur Nancy Silverton, one of the partners, personally brought out a selection of pizzas for him and Phil to try while they hammered out their approach to converting the first four seasons of “Raymond” to high definition (the later seasons were all shot in HD).
Bob’s division at CBS syndicates “Raymond,” and the HD upgrade he and Phil worked out last year has gone smoothly. He said they were on target for every episode of the show to air in HD starting in February. The seven-figure cost to pull off the switch is a sound investment in the grand scheme for the sitcom, he said.
“It’s a classic,” Bob said. “We want to present it for the next 30 years in the best possible way.”
Nancy did not personally bring the bianco, funghi and fennel sausage pizzas that Bob and I shared with John Wentworth, CBS TV Distribution’s exec VP of communications. But the food and service did not disappoint.
Bob and I are both Detroit-raised, full-blooded Italian Americans, so it seemed fitting to end our meal by enforcing my favorite Italian family dining rule: My mom taught me to always leave the table on a sweet note. So I insisted we order dessert. It took a giant twist of the arm (uh-huh), but I talked the CBS guys into a butterscotch something or other. Yum.
I know it looks like we ate a ton. Bob, for one, can afford it. He ventures out of his Pacific Palisades home every day for a 5- to 8-mile run. He has covered every street from Hermosa Beach to Ventura to the Hollywood Bowl and beyond, using a 1997 Thomas Guide to map his adventures.
On the Books: Boxing(ing) lunch in Las Vegas with HBO Sports’ Ross Greenburg