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CBS TV Distribution's Roger King dies

9 December 2007 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

Roger King, the colorful television pioneer who brought Oprah Winfrey to national television, died Saturday at Boca Raton Community Hospital after suffering a stroke at his home the day before. He was 63.

Most recently CEO of CBS Television Distribution, King was one of the most accomplished salespeople in television. He transformed the family business his father founded in 1964, King World, into a production and syndication powerhouse that merged with CBS in 1999 in a deal worth more than $2.5 billion to King World.

Among his successful syndication launches are The Oprah Winfrey Show, Dr. Phil, Wheel of Fortune, "Jeopardy!," Inside Edition and Rachael Ray.

King was regarded as one of the industry's liveliest and most generous characters who possessed an enthusiasm for his day-to-day work that endured long after he amassed great wealth.

In media interviews, King was known for refusing to censor himself, oftentimes ruffling feathers with his critical comments about everything from NATPE to his competitors' product.

In fact, King proved he could still toss a bombshell among his syndication brethren this fall when he decided to "sit out" the upcoming NATPE Conference & Exhibition, at which the company traditionally exhibited. The decision partially was due to the fact that Dr. Phil spin-off The Doctors -- which King was personally and actively selling to stations when he died -- already was widely cleared for a fall 2008 debut.

The NATPE news came as a shock to many who looked forward to King's annual dinner and party at the confab, a two-decades-long tradition that in years past featured performances by such artists as Elton John and the Eagles and one year included a surprise appearance by Winfrey.

At the time of his death, King oversaw all operations of CBS TV Distribution, which was formed in 2006, combining the assets of King World Prods., CBS Paramount Domestic Television, CBS Paramount International Television and CBS Consumer Products.

CBS declined comment on King's replacement as head of the division, whose senior executives include president/COOs Robert Madden and John Nogawski.

Leslie Moonves, president and CEO of CBS Corp., issued a statement saying: "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."

King was born in 1944 in New Jersey, one of Charles and Lucille King's six children. Charles King built his syndication business after acquiring rights to Hal Roach's Our Gang shorts, which King World repackaged and distributed as a half-hour series under the title The Little Rascals.

After his father died in 1972, Roger King -- who had worked as a newspaper sales representative, radio station manager, host of a local late-night movie show in Florida and television station sales manager -- and his siblings took over the family business. »

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