Roger King Speaks Up

Jan 19, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Roger King met with TelevisionWeek in December at his Boca Raton, Fla., home. After posing for a photographer and showing his guests around the grounds of his waterside compound, he sat down for this rare interview.
TelevisionWeek: King World was founded and prospered as a family business. Why was it taken public in 1984?
Roger King: It was the only way we had to evaluate the company. Other than that, we had brothers and sisters trying to figure out what it was worth, which is disastrous. Plus, [my brothers and sisters] could liquidate their positions as we went along without an argument, although there still were. A family business is very difficult.
TVWeek: How is it now being part of the Viacom family? Why the merger?
Mr. King: It became very difficult to sell TV shows. 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.
TVWeek: How has the relationship with CBS been?
Mr. King: They really leave me alone. I have pretty much autonomy. I get up and run King World just as I did before. That was what they said they were going to do when they bought the company. They said they would be the bank and I could sell to anyone I want. That’s what I do. I’ve sold shows to CBS [stations], I’ve sold shows to ABC [stations] and I’ve sold shows to NBC [stations].
TVWeek: Will King World have anything new to roll out at NATPE?
Mr. King: No. We’re developing a new show for 2005.
TVWeek: Anything you can talk about?
Mr. King: No.
TVWeek: Not even the genre?
Mr. King: No.
TVWeek: The King World party has always been the toughest ticket at NATPE. Will that change now that you’re under the budget-minded corporate CBS umbrella?
Mr. King: It’s going to be better than ever [at NATPE 2004]. We’re going to have the cast of `Everybody Loves Raymond’ and Fleetwood Mac.
TVWeek: What about international sales? Do you plan to be more aggressive in that arena?
Mr. King: I think [other countries] are becoming more sophisticated. They’re developing some of their own stuff that works. But they’re still importing a lot of American product. We’re not that strong, because we don’t have product to sell. We sell kits on `Wheel of Fortune’ and `Jeopardy!’ We sell them the format and they make up their own shows.
TVWeek: The hot genre in TV is reality. King World has not gotten into that field. Why?
Mr. King: I don’t like it. It will be short-lived. Water seeks its own level and so does bad taste. Bad taste will only go so far. Eating bugs and spiders and stuff, I don’t know what that’s for. Actually, I do know. It’s for shock TV. That will wear off. The kids it’s aimed at will move on. There’s no question in my mind. We’ve had hits that last 20 to 25 years. That’s what I want. People say I enjoy selling TV shows. No. I enjoy renewing them.
TVWeek: Late-night is another area where King World hasn’t been a player. Any reason?
Mr. King: We’ve tried late-night. It’s difficult because of the way TV affiliations are set up. There’s very little opportunity. We did one in 1986-87 called `Nightlife with David Brenner.’ It was a hip show, a half-hour with guests. It didn’t work.
TVWeek: King World’s major initiative this season was in the morning, `Living it Up! With Ali & Jack.’ So far, it hasn’t caught on. What’s the future of the show?
Mr. King: We saw an opening in the morning, but our show is not that good right now. We have to develop it further. We hired good producers, who we thought would do a good job. We’re revamping the show right now. It’s already sold for two seasons. What we’re trying to do is fix it up so we can last through the second season.
TVWeek: What show has been your biggest disappointment?
Mr. King: `Roseanne’ [`The Roseanne Show’]. It just became haywire. It just went all crazy. I learned a lesson from that. [Talk shows are] not about a big star. It’s about a personality who knows how to do TV. If you don’t know how to do TV, it doesn’t matter how big a motion picture star or television star you are. You have to know how to do TV.
TVWeek: You have the queen of knowing how to do TV, Oprah Winfrey. For the past few years, she has talked about retiring. How has it been dealing with that?
Mr. King: That was a big concern for many, many years but she’s now renewed through 2008. She’s happy and she’s doing a dynamite show.
TVWeek: `Dr. Phil,’ another King World show, has been called the next `Oprah.’ Do you think he has the longevity `Oprah’ has displayed?
Mr. King: `Dr. Phil’ is doing well. He’s the biggest hit since `Oprah.’ He had a great November book. Now, we’re headed toward February. I could see him going on for a long time.