King Makes Oprah New Talk Czar
Her first effort is expected in 2006
By Jim Finkle -- Broadcasting & Cable, 12/12/2004 7:00:00 PM
In an unexpected move, King World CEO Roger King has turned over talk-show development for the giant syndicator to the queen of talk shows and his No. 1 star, Oprah Winfrey. Oprah's first show is likely to debut in the fall of 2006. King declined to elaborate on plans, saying it's too early in the process to comment.
It's an unusual move for King, who rarely admits that someone can do a job better than he can. “The person who develops the next hit will probably be Oprah Winfrey,” he says.
King is an innovator who has changed the way syndicated fare is sold, distributed, marketed and scheduled. Perfecting the art of selling shows years in advance, he persuaded TV stations covering more than 80% of the U.S. to agree to air Oprah through 2011.
King's skills as a salesman may be legendary, but his record is spotty when it comes to developing talk shows. Of his last five attempts, only one is a hit. That show, Dr. Phil, was created by Winfrey's Harpo Productions as an Oprah spinoff.
Finding the next Phil
Now King has worked out a deal with Winfrey and Oprah executive producer Ellen Rakieten. They are charged with crafting new shows using the same formula that turned an unknown Texas psychologist, Dr. Phil McGraw, into a multimillionaire and the second most-watched syndicated talk-show host in America.
Winfrey identified the folksy-yet-brash McGraw as somebody with tremendous audience appeal. She made him a regular on Oprah, teaching him the tools of the talk trade. By the time he was ready to fly solo, he was a known commodity to viewers and owners of the television stations that agreed to carry his show. That familiarity made it a less risky venture than your typical syndicated fare.
For now, King won't discuss the details of the next King World/Harpo venture. Winfrey and Rakieten couldn't be reached at press time to discuss their plans. But some insiders speculate that Nate Berkus, a 33-year-old decorating guru who is currently the only frequent regular on Oprah, may be the next spinoff.
On a show aired during the November sweeps, Berkus redecorated Kirstie Alley's house as the former Cheers star discussed her struggles to lose weight in the face of tabloid ridicule. It was an exclusive for Winfrey, because Alley hadn't done a television interview in four years. There has been talk that Paige Davis of Trading Spaces would be a strong addition to a Berkus show; Davis could interview guests while Berkus fixed up their homes.
King hopes to learn from his failures.
Two of his talk flops include shows hosted by Roseanne Barr in 1998 and Martin Short in 1999. “We made a mistake,” he says. “You can't take somebody from one area and put them in another and expect it to be a big hit.”
His company also struck out when it tapped a VJ from MTV, Ananda Lewis, for an Oprah-wannabe show for teenagers and twentysomethings.
Although King World struck gold when it launched Dr. Phil in 2002, that success didn't signal a turnaround. Things went downhill when King World cast Jack Ford and Alexandra Wentworth at the helm of Living It Up!
Confidence in New Team
While King declined to discuss Berkus' future, he says he'd consider working with Ellen DeGeneres some day. But he would want her to abandon the talk format and do a comedy show that would run in prime time on weekends.
For now, the company's focus is on whether Winfrey and Rakieten can work their Phil magic again. Roger King says he is confident in their ability to produce hit shows and will spend whatever time it takes to get them ready for market.
“It's a very risky business,” King says. “If you don't do your homework, you will die.”
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