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Syndication Giant Roger King Dead at 63

Syndication titan Roger M. King, most recently CEO of CBS Television Distribution, died Saturday from complications of a stroke he suffered Friday at his home in Boca Raton, Fla. He was 63.

Mr. King, through his King World Productions, was responsible for the launch, sales and distribution of some of syndication's biggest successes, including "Wheel of Fortune," "Jeopardy!," "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and "Dr. Phil."

Under the guidance of Mr. King and his brother, Michael, King World grew from a small company founded in 1964 by their father—who built it on distributing "The Little Rascals" comedies—into the preeminent distributor of first-run syndicated programming.

The defining moment for the latter-day King World came in 1983 after Mr. King and his brother set their sights on a 7-year-old network game show, "Wheel of Fortune," produced by Merv Griffin Enterprises. When King World set out to syndicate "Wheel" to stations, it not only demanded no barter time as part of the licensing agreement but also decided to bypass the top markets of New York, Los Angeles and Chicago and let the show grow. "Wheel" premiered in that September with 59 stations and a 43% market reach.

By September 1984 the series was the top-ranked syndicated game show, appearing in 181 markets, including the top three; the company launched Mr. Griffin's "Jeopardy!" that same month. The success of the two series boosted King World's net income by 418.5% that year.

Soon after, Dennis Swanson, then general manager of WLS-TV in Chicago, brought to Mr. King's attention the host of "AM Chicago," who was beating the powerhouse "Donahue" on a regular basis. Her name was Oprah Winfrey, and she was quickly signed to a deal with King World. As the company met with stations to sell the series, Mr. King required every station that bought the show to run it at 4 p.m., a unique demand for a series. But the move paid off, as "The Oprah Winfrey Show" quickly overtook "Donahue" nationally in ratings and drove millions of ad dollars to the stations.

By 1999, consolidation was fast sweeping the syndication business and Mr. King agreed to sell King World Productions to CBS for $2.5 billion.

"It became very difficult to sell TV shows," Mr. King told TelevisionWeek in 2004. "You couldn't go it alone anymore. We thought if we built an alliance with CBS, we'd have owned-and-operated stations and a network behind us. Disney has Buena Vista, NBC has NBC Studios, Fox has theirs, Tribune has theirs. And we got a premium."

Mr. King also launched "Rachael Ray" and "Inside Edition," among other shows, and was responsible for off-network sales of the CBS series "Everybody Loves Raymond," "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," "CSI: Miami" and "CSI: NY," and reality series "Survivor," "The Amazing Race" and "America's Next Top Model."

With CBS' acquisition of King World, Mr. King assumed the post of CEO of CBS Enterprises and King World Productions. In September 2006, when King World Productions and CBS Paramount Domestic Television were merged, Mr. King became CEO of the resultant CBS Television Distribution.

Leslie Moonves, president and CEO of CBS Corp., said Saturday, "Television has lost a legend; a truly original executive with an unparalleled combination of business acumen, passion and personality. CBS has lost a colleague and good friend. It's a very sad day for CBS and for all of broadcasting."

Mr. King's accolades include induction into the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame in 1992, an honorary degree from Emerson College in 1995, a special tribute at the television industry's NATPE 2000 conference, TelevisionWeek's first Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004 and his induction into the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2004.

He was active with charities including the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, the Ronald McDonald House and the Make a Wish Foundation.

Mr. King is survived by his wife, Raemali, and three daughters.

Plans for funeral services are pending.


Updated at 4:23 PM

Comments (8)

My condolences to Michael and the rest of the King family.

I was at Barry & Enright and was a Producer on the long since defunct, SOAP WORLD. The brothers were phenominal and great to work with,(now twenty-five years ago).

The legendary climb of KING WORLD is the stuff of hard work and ethical behavior.

May Roger King rest in peace. He earned it.

Peter Bright

lori corcione:

i am very sorry to hear about roger.he came to my fathers wake. and helped my family with the burial.my father was agood friend of his. and it is strange he passed away aday after my dads birthday.he earned aspot in heaven with his heart.right now michaeland roger are having a scotch inheaven.god bless you roger you will be missed. say hello to my father.

lori corcione:

i am very sorry to hear about roger.he came to my fathers wake. and helped my family with the burial.my father was agood friend of his. and it is strange he passed away aday after my dads birthday.he earned aspot in heaven with his heart.right now michaeland roger are having a scotch inheaven.god bless you roger you will be missed. say hello to my father.

In the late 1980's, I played the role of Julius Caesar for Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. Mr King was a frequent visitor and introduced himself to me. As successful as he was, I found him to be very friendly and down to earth. It didn't matter who you were or what you did for a living, he treated everyone with respect. Very sad to read of his passing at such a young age.

Prayers to his family and friends.

Brian Firestone:

My sincerest condolences to Michael, Bob and family. Roger was always a favorite of mine. In fact I allmost worked with you guys just prior to the launch of Wheel when we met in Summit, New Jersey.

I know we've lost a great person in Roger.

Brian Firestone:

My sincerest condolences to Michael, Bob and family. Roger was always a favorite of mine. In fact I allmost worked with you guys just prior to the launch of Wheel when we met in Summit, New Jersey.

I know we've lost a great person in Roger.

Ray Murray:

I worked with Rodger (Richie too)in radio sales at WERA radio in Plainfield NJ. This was long before his monumental success in TV, but you knew he was going to do something big. Rodger was a killer radio salesman even then. Years later I read an article about his success in TV Guide and called him. Rodger could not have been nicer to me.

My condolences to Rodger's family, he was someone special to know!
Ray Murray

Ray Martin:

I was Rogers pilot for years, I flew him everywhere, great memories of a real person who worked had and loved life. It was a pleasure to fly for him. Always great up beat attitude and never took him self too seriously. He will be missed, a true American success story.
My best to Raemali and his brothers.
See you later buddy, I'll have one for you when i see the next beautiful Tennessee sunset and remember two of many insights you shared with me "Any body can lose!" and "Ray can this thing go any faster">


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