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Remembrances of Roger King

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.
A remembrance:
"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."

Another remembrance:
"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.”

-Compiled by Chris Pursell and Michele Greppi

(Editor: Baumann. Updated Dec. 10, 4:11 PM)

Comments (13)

Bob Muller:


I've known Roger for over 35 years. Our friendship started when he was selling game shows for Dick Colbert. At that time he was having trouble with a broadcaster that I was very friendly with, so he asked me if I could step in and correct a problem and get him another meeting. I did this and he was very grateful. Over these many years we did not converse a lot, but in these coversations, we always showed so much mutual respect for each other. In building my own company for over 20 years, he knew what it took to build from nothing and always acknowledged my success because he was once in the same position. (Although needless to say, he went beyond all borders in his many accomplishments.) Those who knew Roger well, realized that beneath that tough exterior was a very caring gentle giant.

Bob Muller, retired
(past president of Muller Media, Inc.)

steve rosenberg:

Babe Ruth. Bigger then the game he played. He changed it, and defined it, and became it.

If you’ve ever watched, touched or played the game of television syndication then you know, or should know, that we’ve lost Babe Ruth.
As I heard about the news this morning I thought about how lucky I am to have known Roger King.
He’s made me pissed, he’s made me nervous, he’s made me laugh and he’s made me better.
Like the Babe,...Roger was larger then life, not only would he light up a room he’d blind you with it, he was prolific and dangerous…and Roger alone could hit more home runs then most teams.

I’ll miss watching him play….but man he was good!

Tracey McCray:

I'm deeply saddened by the passing of Roger. I was fortunate enough to spend quality time with him and his girls Annarose and Lucinda looking after the girls on family trips to Disney World. He was a very generous man. We will never forget Roger's big birthday parties at BayHead.Our prayers and thoughts go out to the entire King family.

Roger B. Adams:

Alas, Roger is gone. Alas because we always grieve for the loss of something unique, special, valuable, and irreplaceable.

Roger had no hate, envy, or covetousness in him. He did not care that, at certain times in his life, that others thought him an aimless, dissolute buffoon; he just did his Roger thing and proved them all wrong. He was a human being in an age where this task is not so easily accomplished.

Thus, in the words of Shakespeare, let us make dust our paper and with rainy eyes write sorrow on the bosom of the earth. I will certainly miss him.

At the time (late 1970s), it was a great mystery why Roger King would telephone me every day to pitch The Little Rascals for some ridiculous amount ($25 a day in Lima, Ohio, which was market rank #192 at the time). I said, "Don't you have better things to do than spend 20 minutes every day with a tiny market?" Roger replied that all his customers were important. "But none of the other film salesmen spend so much time calling me." Then he said, "Maybe they don't want your business as much as I do." He made the sale and the ratings were strong. Looking back, his behavior was not so mysterious after all.

William Scott:

Roger was indeed larger than life! Over the top, yet approachable. He would always come in to see me even though our station was last in the ratings and he had all his shows already booked on another station in town. He never left any stone unturned. His joy to succeed and win in this business always stuck with whoever he met.

I'm not one of the "big shots" that will come in here and post and get immediate "a-ha's" from everyone. But, Roger (and Michael) played a huge role in my business life. I met them when I was the LA Arbitron guy and they were still working for Colbert. And because brother Bob was too cheap to buy the numbers from us, I used to smuggle the boys rating books. Roger invited me to pitch a sales job with them and told me to meet him in Vegas. I walked into the coffee shop of the old Sands and heard a booming voice call me from the back, "Currie, Currie, get ovah heah." I didn't think he'd remember me, so I had this look on my face. He said, "you know how I knew you?" I shook my head no. He said "you're the only schmuck in Vegas with a coat and tie." He sat me down and said, "So you want a job, huh? Give me your best pitch." I looked stunned, opened my mouth and before I could say anything he said, "you're hired." I looked more stunned and he said, "I get it you want to pitch me more." OK, here's the deal, (and he laid out the deal.) Then he said, check in, get yourself a room and a bathing suit and meet me in the pool, and then you can pitch the S%#*@ out of me." I did and that's literally how I became King World's first salesman on the West Coast, selling Wheel and Jeopardy and Mr. Food in places like Albuquerque. Years later after he and Michael rose to fame and fortune (and I clawed my way to the middle), they would always remember me and my wife and kids. (I think they thought I was simply another Irishman from Jersey. Anyway, that's something we should all remember about these great guys. They never forgot how they got there and who was on the ride with them.

aaronibus62:

The TV theme for the Little Rascals running through my head is a wonderful reminder of and personal tribute to Roger King. I remember from my childhood seeing the name of King World in nice big letters at the start of every Little Rascals short.

God bless and minister to the entire King family in their time of grief.

I didn't know Mr. King personally like many of those above, and I don't think I'm hardly qualified to show notes of appreciation. But I am a television viewer, and Mr. King knew television.

For at least a half hour every night down here in the 757, there is a show either guided or managed by him on most of the network affiliates. Inside Edition. Entertainment Tonight (followed by The Insider). Wheel of Fortune (followed by Jeopardy). Judge Joe Brown (preceded by Judge Judy). Everybody Loves Raymond.

Everytime I see the television ratings, the shows guided and managed by Mr. King dominate them all. I get the sense that he will be missed by a lot of colleagues who knew him. Roger King will also be missed by a lot of viewers who may not know his name but are fans of the shows he left behind.

Jeff:

I remember watching the "Little Rascals" shorts on a now-defunct UHF TV station in Fort Lauderdale, FL. It was in the dead of night, and the liveliest thing on. They were great fun, and the whole King family is filled with genius, from Dad on down. Thanks.

steve mauldin:

roger king was a dear friend of mine and like others my memories of him are numerous. one in particular...we were playing golf in tampa in 94, 95 and he asked me what i did before television. i told him i was a dj and that i promoted concerts out of college in austin with willie nelson. he asked "you know willie?" i answered yes he's still a friend. fast forward several years later to natpe in new orleans and rogers party. he walks up to me and says "come back stage with me mauldini, there's someone i want you to meet." we proceeded to go to the green room where roger introduced me to the announced talent for the evening julio iglesias. roger conomikes was there along with vanna white and her husband. roger then walked me over to the corner of the room and his surprise guest for the party was standing there sipping on a beer and roger turned to me and said "i'm sure you don't need to be introduced to this guy". about that time willie nelson looked up and said "hey steve, its great to see you" and gave me a big hug. roger then said "you do know him!" he was getting confirmation on a story i had told him several years prior about knowing willie. he had a memory like a trap, and a heart as big as Texas...i will miss him

In my 30 years of working in television, I only met Roger King once. I was a young 31 year old program director at KXTX-TV in Dallas that was owned by CBN. CBN did a lot of business with King World for the old CBN Cable Network for shows like the Little Rascals, Branded and Guns Of Will Sonnett, hence the relationship with its three TV stations. We had all of these shows on KXTX. It was 1986 and my GM and I met him at the old INTV convention at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles. When my GM introduced ourselves to him, Roger knew exactly who we were and he knew that the station was behind in paying its bills! LOL! He knew exactly who was going on and how much the station owed. It didn't surprise me but it took my GM aback! What a rare individual he was in our industry of whom we may never see the likes of someone like him ever again. My thoughts and prayers are with the entire King family at this difficult time. Thank you, Roger, for everything you did for our industry and for the American television viewing audience. We will feel your presence for many years to come.

DIANE NEPPL:

I WAS ENGAGED TO ROGER MANY YEARS AGO IN FORT LAUDERDALE, FL. WHERE I WAS INTRODUCED TO HIM BY BOBBY VAN AT BACHELORS III RESTURANT. ROGER I MUST SAY WAS THE MOST UNIQUE PERSON I HAVE EVER KNOWN. HE WAS SO MUCH FUN TO BE WITH AND I LOVED HIS WONDERFUL BELLY LAUGH.. IM SURE HIS FAMILY AND FRIENDS WILL MISS THAT BIG HEART, GREAT SMILE AND WONDERFUL LAUGH.

DIANE SPURGETIS=NEPPL

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