The CBS Corp. organizational chart may have Leslie Moonves' name at the top, but there was one man even the president and CEO never dreamed of telling what to do: the late Roger King, CEO of CBS Television Distribution.
Moonves remembers a meeting where King started to say, “Hey, you're my boss.” Moonves cut King off abruptly.
He fired back, “Nobody is ever your boss, you're unbossable. I know you report to me on paper, but if I am ever stupid enough to tell you anything about your business, shoot me on the spot.”
That is the level of respect King commanded with so many. And Moonves says it came from simply being the best ever at what he did.
“If you have one show you need to sell and your house and family is on the line, Roger King is the guy you want selling it, period,” he says.
Besides his well-known ability to close deals, Moonves laughs when he thinks about King's recall of numbers. “No one knew stations or ratings better than him,” he says. “He could honestly probably tell you what Wheel of Fortune did in Omaha [20 years ago], and probably tell you the demos.”
Moonves also has a deep appreciation for the zest with which King attacked life away from the workplace. “He was drinker, he was a gambler, but he just loved life,” Moonves says. “Unfortunately he only lived 63 years, but man, it was a hell of a 63 years.”
And Moonves, who isn't averse to a little showmanship himself whether at an upfront presentation or just holding court at a cocktail party, loved that King was as much about the sizzle as he was the steak. “He did it the old-fashioned way, he was a true showman,” Moonves says. “He loved the celebration and the pizzazz.”
The CBS chief recalls the now-legendary party at the 1998 NATPE confab in New Orleans. That was the famous soiree for which King World rented out the Superdome and decorated it to make it look like the French Quarter. Roger and Michael King made their arrival into the building on Harley-Davidson motorcycles. The evening ended with a concert featuring Elton John.
“That was the quintessential and best television party in the history of the world,” Moonves says, echoing the sentiments of many. “And Roger just loved doing it.”
And while Moonves knows King had enough money for a lifetime and more, he says the ultimate salesman was still out there making deals almost until the day he passed away.
Most recently, King was pounding the pavement to sell an upcoming Dr. Phil spinoff, The Doctors, and would call Moonves every week to tell him how it was going. “And probably with the same pizzazz as when he sold Little Rascals,” he says. “It was like some 21-year-old who just made his first sale.”
And now while Moonves will have to think about how to move on in business without Roger King, he says there is no way to even try to replace him. “There is no way to compare him even remotely to anybody,” he says. “You use the word 'legend,' there really was only one Roger King. There is just no one like him in terms of style or personality. 'Bigger than life' is overused, but that really is Roger.”