The passing of Roger King, a legend in the television syndication industry, prompted an outpouring of tributes and remembrances from colleagues and friends. TelevisionWeek invites readers to post their own memories and anecdotes in the comments section below.
Oprah Winfrey, host, “Oprah,” founder, Harpo Productions
“Roger was the best sales executive this industry has ever known. He was a larger-than-life partner who helped me launch two decades of success in syndication. I will never forget what he did for me. And this industry will never forget his legendary presence."
Rachael Ray, host, “Rachael Ray”
"King was an appropriate name for Roger, as he is and always will be the KING of sales. He was a singular man who once told me that the key to his salesmanship was the ability to offer a great tuna sandwich to his customers. Roger confided in me that the secret to his sandwich was simply a splash of milk. My heart goes out to his loving family. They are in my thoughts and prayers."
Dr. Phil McGraw, host, “Dr. Phil”
“On behalf of myself and my entire family, we would like to express our deepest sympathy to the family of Roger King. He was a dear personal friend and a trusted colleague. Having worked so closely with Roger over the past 7 years, I came to appreciate the passion he had for his work, and the devotion he showed to his wife and children and entire family. His passing will leave a huge void in all of our lives, just as his dedication has left an indelible mark on the landscape of television. There will never be another Roger King.”
Sean Perry, partner, Endeavor
"He was a great man. Most people will judge that by what he did in business, and that is deserved with honors. But while he was a boisterous character, few have seen that personal side to Roger that he kept very close, where he showed what a wonderful person he truly was. One of the pioneers of our business is lost and we will never see anyone like him again. They don’t make them like Roger anymore.
Rick Feldman, president and CEO, National Association of Television Program Executives
"The truth is that there are really only a few people in any business who are larger than life. In fact, you can count those people on one hand, and Roger was one of them. I always tell people, I’ve been in this business for 35 years, and when I was asked who the best salesperson in the industry is, I always said it was Roger King. The reason it was Roger was because Roger, better than anybody else, was able to accurately assess vulnerabilities, and when he came in to pitch something, it was like he was reading your mind. The business will always miss people who are larger than life. Our sincere regrets go out for his passing."
Ritch Colbert, principal, Program Partners
"Roger King was a legendary, bigger-than-life figure whose salesmanship singlehandedly dominated syndication for over 20 years. His passing is an extraordinary loss for our industry."
Jack Sander, senior advisor, Belo Corp.
"When we were involved in negotiations at Belo, Roger was coming to Dallas to discuss multiple markets and programming products. One of our competitors wanted a program we owned and wanted to 'preempt' our renewal offer for that program in one market. Roger said he would meet with him after he met with Belo, but had to go to L.A. from Dallas. The individual said, 'Why don't I fly my plane to Dallas and then I can fly you to L.A.?' Roger's comeback was classic: 'Why don't you fly your plane to Dallas, we will put it inside my plane and you and your plane can fly with ME to L.A.?' We did our renewal with Roger and he flew to L.A. without the other party."
"WAGA owned both 'Wheel' and 'Jeopardy!' Roger was coming to town for a renewal. Because of past negotiations, we new it would be a long and grueling renewal. Because WAGA was a nonsmoking building and we had a beautiful Atlanta day, we decided to set up a place in the back wooded area of the WAGA property, so Roger could smoke and pace. We had everything set up (chairs, tables, drinks & snacks). We had the meeting and eventually we came to agreement and renewed both shows. I thought it was a productive way to get the results for both parties. Sometime later, Roger told a third person he was offended that I would not let him into the station, which was hardly the case. (I thought I was doing him a favor.) Oh well, such is life. I would only add that every negotiations with Roger was memorable and a real adventure."
Hank Price, president and general manager, WXII-TV
A remembrance about buying the initial run of "Oprah" with his WDVM general manager, Ed Pfeiffer, after a lunch for which Mr. King paid $2,250.
“Roger took us to lunch at the Four Seasons. He bought two $750 bottles of wine. He told us that we could only renew ‘Wheel of Fortune’ if we bought this new show with this woman named Oprah that was coming out. We said we don’t want that show because she applied for ‘PM Magazine’ co-host and she was OK, but ….. We ended up spending all day negotiating. He was drinking all day and all night. About 10 o’clock, Ed said, ‘Look, I’m going to offer him, we’re going to take this ‘Oprah’ show. It won’t work but we’ll take it.’ I think they wanted $1.25 million a year, which was insane—we didn’t know there was that kind of money. Ed said, ‘I’m going to offer $750,000 and say, ‘Take it or leave it,’ and if they say, ‘Leave it,’ don’t let me out of the room.’ I said, ‘What do you want me to do?’ He said, ‘I don’t know, just stall.’ So Ed says, ‘$750,000. Take it or leave it.’ Roger says, ‘Leave it.’ So he gets up to leave and I reached over and I grabbed the tablecloth and fell on the floor and pulled everything on the floor from the table. Ed stuck his finger in Roger’s face and said, ‘Look, you killed my program director. Look what you’ve done.’ Roger said, ‘$1 million,’ and Ed said, ‘OK.’ So I got up off the floor and cleaned myself off a bit and we all went to bed. Later we told people we were among the first stations to see the potential for ‘Oprah.’ It was an amazing day for me. Prior to that we had ‘Wheel of Fortune’ for something like $100,000 a year.”
Mary Hart, host, "Entertainment Tonight"
"All of us in the industry have known and respected Roger for many years. His passing is a great loss. On behalf of everyone at 'Entertainment Tonight,' our condolences go out to the King family. We share their grief and mourn the death of a wonderful man and true television legend."
Vanna White, co-host, "Wheel of Fortune"
"Roger loved what he did and it showed! He was always full of spunk and laughter. I will miss him, especially his jokes!"
Judge Judy Sheindlin, host, "Judge Judy"
"My heartfelt condolences go out to the entire King family, Roger left a legacy of thousands of hours of entertainment for millions of people."
Tony Vinciquerra, president and CEO, Fox Networks Group
"Roger was a good friend and without a doubt the best pure salesman ever to carry a syndicator’s bag. In another life he could have been a mathematician, I've never seen anyone with a command of numbers like Roger. He will be sorely missed by the television community. You often hear that when they made someone the mold was broken. Roger is the epitome of that statement! With all his business bravado, he was one of the kindest, most generous and caring people one could know."
E.V. Di Massa Jr., VISTA Entertainment
"Roger King was my boss for many years when I headed programming and development at King World. He was bigger than life, always fun, exciting to be with, amazing to learn from. But more important than the success he had with ratings and the money he made for others was the fact that he had a heart and a soul. There have been many stories about Roger over the years but take this from one who was there: When it counted, Roger always did what was right. He had a true sense of conscience and fairness.
He and his brother Michael worked harder than anyone I have ever known in this business. When we were going to “pitch” a new show or concept to someone, Roger made sure that we all knew the answers to any question we might be asked. He studied the market, the programming and the potential. If you bought a show from Roger you got his attention and support 24-7. If the show didn't work (and sometimes they didn't) he always found a way to make it up to you... and he didn't have to do that. Roger loved his family, respected those of us lucky enough to work for him and always found time to call someone who needed a call. When my dad passed away Roger spent an hour on the phone with my mom and I will never forget him for doing that… I just wish I could pick up the phone right now and say 'thank you' again."
David Sams, chairman and CEO, David Sams Industries, Inc.
"I was one of the first employees of King World back in the early 80s. Roger King was more than my boss and mentor, he was the 800-pound gorilla of innovation. He not only broke the rules, he invented them. When he and his brother, Michael, hired me, the company was operating on a shoestring. They saw something in me and brought me out to L.A. from WBNS-TV in Columbus. I actually opened the L.A. office with Michael King. They put me in charge advertising, promotion, station relations, and creative affairs. I was in my 20s. Boy, was I in for one hell of a ride! Roger would call me morning, noon, night, late night to do whatever it took to make ‘Wheel,’ ‘Jeopardy!’ and ‘Oprah’ tops in every market. I didn't get any sleep for three years! The first year I was with the company, I had virtually no budget--but Roger and Michael put their own money on the line to promote those shows. By the next year, we were probably spending 10 million bucks. Nothing was going to keep Roger from ruling the top of the syndicated ratings--nothing. We reinvented television promotion. Roger and Michael were probably the greatest tag-team in the history of TV. They had photographic memories, and knew every GM's phone number, every station's rating and shares--not only for our programs, but for the lead-ins and lead-outs. I once was in a limo with the two of them when they bet each other $100 for each station they could recall the rating and shares for ‘Wheel’ and ‘Jeopardy!’ Roger named one station's ratings that Michael thought was incorrect, and I thought a fight was going to break out over 1 rating point! They knew their numbers. Roger also liked to go to Vegas. He would sometimes call me at night and say "David, book me a jet, we're going to Vegas!" I would get out of bed and go meet him at the airport. He worked hard, and played hard. Yes, it was one hell of a ride There will never be another Roger King. This is the end of an era!"
Bruce Baker, executve VP, Cox Television
"You could always see the extra bounce in Roger’s step when he was on the road selling one of his programs. During our negotiations on “Doctors” he reminded me once again how important family is."
Bill Hague, senior VP, Frank N Magid Assoc.
"I only worked for Roger for a couple of years but I will never forget where I had my job interview with him—at the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville. Our schedules had not been able to sync up during the interview process. Joe DiSalvo, the president of KingWorld, and I had been comparing our schedules when I mentioned that I was out of pocket late one week because I was going to the Kentucky Derby. Not missing a beat, he said that he and Roger would also be there and suggested that's where we should meet. It was the day before the Derby and Roger had a horse that was running at Churchill Downs later that day. We ended up meeting in his hotel room, where it appeared he was recovering from the previous night's
festivities. We sat in his room and chatted for less than 30 minutes as he kept his eyes on the television set which was tuned to a horse racing channel. He got up, asked Joe to follow him to his room; Joe then came back moments later with an offer to join KingWorld. Later that day, I placed the largest bet I've ever made (only $50 but still out of my comfort zone) on Roger's horse. Needless to say, it won."
National Association of Broadcasters
"The NAB team joins our colleagues in the broadcast business in mourning the passing of legendary television executive and former NAB Hall of Fame recipient Roger King. Roger was a broadcasting giant whose flair for sales and showmanship were unique to the field of television entertainment."
Dick Askin, chairman and CEO, The Academy of Televison Arts and Sciences and former president and CEO, Tribune Entertainment
"Roger King was one of the legends of the syndication industry, building an unprecedented career from a family-owned company in the '70s into the juggernaut that is now CBS Television Distribution. Along the way, not only did he distribute some of the best shows on television but remained a bigger-than-life figure, with a quick sense of humor, a big heart and a sales sense that was unmatched in our industry. He will be missed immensely."
Barry Wallach, president, NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution
"No one individual left a larger imprint on the syndication industry than Roger King. For the last three decades, he has been the number one force of the first-run syndication business. Our deepest sympathy goes out to the entire King family. Syndication will never be the same."
Dick Robertson, senior advisor, Warner Bros. Television Group; former president, Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution
“He was, bar none, the toughest competitor I ever faced in my entire career in television, and nobody loved to win more than Roger. At his core, though, there was a real sweetness about him that maybe not everyone knew.”
Greg Meidel, president, MyNetworkTV
"Roger was a very dear, close friend for 30 years. He lived life to the fullest and he will truly be missed."
Bob Cook, president and COO, Twentieth Television
“The syndication business has lost one of its true pioneers and icons. Roger’s legacy and bigger than life mark on the television business will live forever. We will miss him.”
(Editor: Baumann. Updated Dec. 10, 4:11 PM)