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Twentieth gets cookin

Ex-marketing executive takes over studio that aims to intensify development 10/29/2000 07:00:00 PM Eastern

Stepping into the top spot at Twentieth Television, Bob Cook starts out ahead. As president and chief operating officer, effective next Monday, he inherits from his predecessor, the late Rick Jacobson, this year's and last year's top-rated rookie strips:
Power of Attorney
andDivorce Court, respectively.

Grabbing a 2.5 household rating for the week ended Oct. 8, according to Nielsen Media Research,Poweris one of the few freshman strips to clear the 2 mark. Also for that period,
Divorce Court
pulled a 3.0, landing in the top 10% of all syndicated efforts.

What's more, Cook will have not just one but potentially
two
station launch groups (Fox O & Os plus, if Fox's bid to buy closes, the Chris-Craft outlets) to propel any offerings that he takes to NATPE 2001.

"[The situation] is really good. You can blame me," jokes Cook's new boss, FOX Television Stations Chairman and COO Mitch Stern. "We'll have quite a few more station outlets. And we see from our competitors that quite a few shows will be canceled by next year [one may be low-rated sophomore talkerQueen Latifah, currently on many FOX stations], so Twentieth has a tremendous opportunity for growth."

Cook plans to implement a "90-day action plan for choosing shows," although he declines to elaborate. "A lot of the hard work, which is taking all the pitches and ferreting out the good possibilities and the bad possibilities, has already been done," he says, adding, "But it's still never an easy task to pick the winners."

Formerly the marketing chief at CBS Enterprises/King World (his credits include helping launch daytime stripMartha Stewart Livingand off-net sales ofEverybody Loves Raymond), Cook certainly has the promotional chops to push Twentieth's current and upcoming content.

And odds are, there will be a pack of Twentieth shows for Cook to tout. Its first-run shows are considered hits, but there are only two, a fairly small number for a studio with a station launch group at hand.

That will change, according to Stern, with "a lot more emphasis at Twentieth being development." He notes that he is "very serious" about six or seven projects currently in development for fall 2001 but declines to give specifics. One contender
The Real Deal,
a male spin onThe Viewfeaturing Alan Thicke.

Some in the industry, though, wonder whether Cook, one of the first non-sales executives to become president of a studio, can make it happen.

"Bob's expertise isn't in programming," notes one rival syndicator, questioning the "can't-do-wrong" aura that seems to surround Cook. "He has a lot of time periods, but I'm not sure that he's going to be able to fill all those time periods himself," which leads the syndicator to believe that there will still be room for the syndicator's shows on FOX and Chris-Craft outlets.

Stern, however, thinks that Cook's experience-he also led Columbia TriStar's marketing division, with responsibility for campaigns for
Ricki Lake
and the off-net run ofSeinfeld-
is his greatest asset.

"If you pitched a show to [Jacobson] and he asked 'what's the promotion?' know, 'that and you said 'I don't know, 'that show didn't make it to the air," says Stern. "So if you have a concept and you immediately get a smart marketing guy saying I can make this work, then you know that the show has a shot."

Even a launch group is no guarantee. In several current cases, shows on strong stations (for example, NBC'sMen Are From Mars, Women Are From Venusand CBS'Dr. Laura)are underachievers.

"[Cook] faces the same problems that everyone else does," says Katz TV's Bill Carroll. "Launching successful shows even if you have the platform to launch them is tough."

In addition to overseeing Twentieth programming and marketing efforts, Cook will also steer the studio's ad sales and Internet operations. Among the off-net shows that he will manage, besides the studio's first-run series, areThe Simpsons;TheX-Filesand, for 2001,King of the Hill;Buffy, the Vampire SlayerandThe Practice. In the pipeline for future syndication areAlly McBeal, Dharma & GregandJudging Amy.

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