Profile: Wood’s Track Record Is Her Calling Card

Jun 12, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Terry Wood, the woman responsible for launching King World’s “Rachael Ray” this fall, faced a typically crammed morning in early April. Through a rainy commute, she made cellphone calls to “Dr. Phil” host Phil McGraw and the executive producers of three of the shows under her purview. By 9 a.m. she was seated in the “Dr. Phil” control room, ready for some juggling.

As she watched the taping at the Paramount lot in Hollywood Ms. Wood scanned the previous night’s market-by-market ratings and fired off e-mails on her laptop computer. The coffee-fueled activity is a ritual for the woman who holds one of the most demanding jobs in television syndication.

“Caffeine is also key to this job,” she said. Later in the day Ms. Wood, who was raised in Tennessee, shifts to Diet Dr Pepper. “My Southern roots,” she explained.

As president of creative affairs and development for King World and CBS Paramount Domestic Television, Ms. Wood oversees hundreds of employees, the Paramount newsmagazine franchise “Entertainment Tonight” and production on “Dr. Phil.” She also supervises “ET” spinoff “The Insider,” prime-time specials and various “ET”-themed cable properties.

This fall Ms. Wood and King World will place their latest bet in first-run syndication with a Monday-through-Friday talk show starring Food Network personality and author Rachael Ray. “Rachael” is entering a debut marketplace more crowded than last season, when only three new strips debuted. This fall talk shows headlined by comedian Megan Mullally, author Greg Behrendt and therapist Dr. Keith Ablow will all enter syndication.

For Ms. Wood it’s another test of her hands-on management style, which has been credited with successes such as “Dr. Phil,” the second-highest-rated talk show in syndication, behind only “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” For King World it’s an effort to generate a hit in a contracting syndication market, where there have been some successes with shows like Warner Bros.’ “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” but no breakout ratings hits in the talk genre since “Dr. Phil’s” debut four years ago.

Over the past decade the syndication business has endured rapid consolidation, with dozens of smaller syndicators swallowed up by larger companies, leaving only a handful of players in the market. Within CBS Paramount alone, the division’s parent media conglomerate, CBS Corp., has absorbed a number of syndication companies, including Eyemark, King World, Big Ticket and World Vision as well as Paramount and Viacom’s syndication interests.

Considering the state of the syndication business and the expectations CBS Paramount and King World have for Ms. Ray’s project, Ms. Wood’s association with any project is becoming a selling point to stations and talent, said Bill Carroll, VP and director of programming for Katz Television Group.

“What she brings to the table is experience and credibility,” Mr. Carroll said. “The fact that she’s supervising the Rachael Ray project … really was one of the reasons it had such overall acceptance, because it was someone who has a recent and past history of success.”

The development and launch strategy for “Rachael Ray” echoes methods that have worked in the past for Ms. Wood and King World.

King World, which will produce and distribute “Rachael” in association with Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Productions and Scripps Networks, has used “Oprah” to introduce and groom new talent. Mr. McGraw, for example, got his start as a guest on the show that has dominated the talk ranks for the past two decades. In addition to the exposure and experience Ms. Ray has had on Food Network, she, too, has made appearances on “Oprah.”

“Watching something air on television in these enormous platforms we have is a much better investment than just trying to produce a pilot,” Ms. Wood said. “I’m not afraid of a pilot, and it’s not about the money. I’m in the business of trying things out every day. But you know if something has teeth by watching it.”

With syndication companies taking fewer shots, people like Ms. Wood face more risk in every decision they make. Ms. Wood had been in the early stages of developing a court project for this coming season, but the idea was shelved after two new court shows were announced from competing studios. CBS Paramount also was developing a series with “ET” correspondent Steven Cojocaru for the 2005-06 season, but Mr. Cojocaru’s health problems forced the company to postpone development.

When the big players do decide to make a launch in first-run syndication, where ratings are shrinking and executives are fighting to keep costs in check, they do so more carefully than ever. It’s imperative in today’s environment to find a marketplace performer that will immediately make an impact with viewers and advertisers.

“Rachael Ray” represents a chance for Ms. Wood to parlay the success she’s had in finding syndicated shows that connect with daytime audiences, whose attention is split among cable, the Internet and myriad other media choices. In 2002 she launched “Phil,” which debuted with ratings higher than any other syndicated talk show since 1986.

In 2004 Ms. Wood helped get “Insider” off the ground. “Insider” launched as the highest-rated new newsmagazine since 1996 and regularly outperforms genre stalwarts “Access Hollywood” and “Extra.”

A track record is only a part of closing the deal with stations on a new show with someone like Ms. Ray, Ms. Wood said.

“Yes, they knew her from the Food Network; they’ve seen her on ‘Oprah,’ but the idea of being able to spend five days a week with her was appealing to the viewer and the stations,” Ms. Wood said.

“Rachael Ray” represents a big commitment for CBS Paramount, King World and Harpo. CBS Paramount hasn’t launched a new strip since “The Insider,” while King World and Harpo have sat out the syndication market since “Dr. Phil” debuted.

Station executives have responded to Ms. Ray. Multiple stations bid on the project in numerous markets. In January King World closed its booth at the National Association of Television Program Executives convention in Las Vegas early. The company posted a sign saying its new project was sold out.

Ms. Wood’s experience in local news prepared her well for her responsibilities at CBS Corp., said Mark Itkin, executive VP, worldwide, for the talent firm William Morris Agency.

Ms. Wood started out as a news producer at WSMV-TV in Nashville, Tenn., before moving to New York to executive produce all the newscasts for flagship CBS station WCBS-TV.

From there she spent eight years at CBS News, where she worked on prime-time news specials, “Evening News With Dan Rather” and the newsmagazine “60 Minutes.” After a stint as a development executive at Harpo, Ms. Wood joined Paramount Domestic TV in 1998 to work on “ET” and newsmagazine “Hard Copy.” From there she has added shows to her portfolio and been promoted three times in eight years.

The daily requirements of local news gave Ms. Wood a background that serves her well as a studio executive, as she understands tight deadlines, budget constraints and talent relations, Mr. Itkin said. Working in local news also gave her the skills to solve problems quickly and quietly.

“She’s no bullshit, no drama, unlike so many people in our business,” he said. “She just gets the job done.”

With multiple responsibilities come multiple bosses in a company that boasts several accomplished TV veterans at its highest levels. She reports to CBS Enterprises and King World CEO Roger King and Paramount Worldwide TV Distribution President Joel Berman. CBS Paramount President of Programming Greg Meidel oversees courtroom shows “Judge Judy” and “Judge Joe Brown” as well as “The Montel Williams Show” talk program.

“She’s very politically astute,” Mr. Itkin said. “She understands how to work within a studio environment.”

Ms. Wood has compiled a successful track record in a business of many expensive failures, Mr. McGraw said backstage after an episode of the show finished taping in April

“She has an amazing vision of how something goes from concept to being on the air,” he said, noting that he speaks to her at several times a day. Ms. Wood is not Mr. McGraw’s yes woman, he said.

“Terry has complete and total license to argue with me until the cows come home,” he added. “And she always wins, and I hate that she’s right, but she’s always right.”

That annoying tendency was on display when Ms. Wood championed an episode of his show that had stay-at-home moms and working moms discussing their views of one another. At first he was against the topic, calling it a “waste of time.”

Ms. Wood led the charge to go with the dueling moms and did not back down until Mr. McGraw agreed to do the show. Ms. Wood’s tenacity paid off.

“It was one of our top-five-rated shows of the year,” he said. “She saw it. [She] had the vision, and like a dog with a bone, did not turn loose of it.”

Ms. Wood’s signature tenacity in part led Harpo to hand “Dr. Phil” production responsibilities to CBS Paramount rather than doing it itself, according to Tim Bennett, president of Harpo Productions.

Ms. Wood began lobbying Mr. Bennett about “Dr. Phil” as the executive was getting on a plane in Las Vegas following the National Association of Broadcasters conference.

Initially, Mr. Bennett thought “Dr. Phil” would be produced by Harpo and shot out of Chicago like “Oprah.” Harpo had quietly let a few companies know it was interested in a distribution partner, but “Paramount was not one of them,” Mr. Bennett said.

Ms. Wood worked with him when she was a development executive at Harpo in the 1990s.

“She is not one to chit-chat,” Mr. Bennett said. “She wanted to pitch Paramount as the distributor and also the producer. Obviously, King World got the distribution rights, but in the end we were so impressed with Terry, they got the right to produce the show.”

The pitch was so good Harpo ultimately agreed to shoot “Dr. Phil” in Los Angeles so Ms. Wood could be closer to the production.

Ms. Wood’s ability to work well with big personalities like Mr. McGraw is one of her biggest assets, Mr. Bennett said.

“She understands talent better than most people in management positions,” Mr. Bennett said. “Unless you listen to the talent and learn their strengths and develop a rapport with the namesake of the show, you are going to fail.”

Ms. Wood “knows how to build stories, build those emotionally powerful tape pieces,” he added.

She also knows how to shepherd newcomers like Rachael Ray.

“Terry did not ask me to come to work and be something I’m not,” Ms. Ray said. “She asked me to do something that was doable to me.”

Ms. Ray, who was a sought-after personality for syndication, could have gone with any studio she wanted for her upcoming daytime show.

“There really is a genuine sense of the safety net there that I didn’t get from meeting other people,” Ms. Ray said of Ms. Wood.

Ms. Wood’s background in news has helped forge connections with her colleagues, including Linda Bell Blue, executive producer of “ET” and “Insider,” who talks with Ms. Wood several times a day.

“She grew up in news; I grew up in news,” Ms. Bell Blue said. “She understands better than anybody in this company what my job is.”

Despite “ET’s” leadership as the top-rated newsmagazine, there is no resting on laurels, Ms. Wood said of the show. Every summer, she and her team give the program a close examination for ways to improve the product.

“We constantly up the game because once you become complacent, things go off course,” Ms. Wood said. “You can never let anyone catch you sleeping-ever.”

Constantly keeping on your toes and reinventing the product takes you only so far. Understanding the specifics of the TV marketplace is a necessity that cannot be overlooked or wished away by great ideas or solid preparation, Ms. Wood said.

“When is the time right and when is the landscape right?” she said. “It really is about availability and about real estate, where you are going to put something. It doesn’t matter if you have a great idea. If it is a lousy time period, it’s going to be difficult to make

it work.”

Name: Terry Wood

Title: President, creative affairs and development, King World and CBS Paramount Domestic Television

How long in current position: Since January 2005

Place of birth: Stuttgart, Germany

Who knew? She is married to Steve Lange, a local news veteran-like Ms. Wood-who is now an executive producer at Weller/Grossman productions.