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