John Weiser can thank his older brother for his entry into the TV syndication business. In 1985, the younger Weiser was selling meat and seafood door-to-door in Manhattan. "Steak, shrimp cocktails, filet mignon, chicken and veal," he recalls. "It was a tough gig, selling 50 pounds of frozen scallops for freezers the size of a loaf of bread."
Brother Michael was a sales executive at Television Program Enterprises at the time, selling shows like Solid Gold, Star Search
and Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous
to local stations. He sent John, who last month was promoted to executive vice president of Columbia TriStar Domestic Television, to see his friend Anne Rodgers at Tribune Entertainment.
"I knew she was looking for a salesperson," says Michael Weiser, now president and CEO of Modern Entertainment. "I set it up for John to go into her office as if he was selling the meat and seafood, figuring she would be impressed because he had just the coolest pitch ever. She offered him a job the next day."
Tribune was launching Geraldo Rivera's first syndicated talk show at the time, and Weiser started as an account executive and worked his way up to selling that and other specials in the Midwest and Northeast.
"I just loved it right from the start," he says. "I was a big TV fan, so, for me, it was a dream come true to be in the industry."
After two years, Weiser was hired away by Chuck Barris, host of The Gong Show, and joined Chuck Barris Entertainment as senior vice president of sales to handle syndication of such shows as The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game
and The Gong Show.
A year later, Guber Peters Entertainment bought Barris out and offered Weiser an opportunity to move to Los Angeles to run West Coast sales. Weiser moved west. In 1990, Sony acquired Guber Peters, and Weiser was again offered an opportunity to join the new company. This time, though, he would have to start at the bottom at Sony's Columbia TriStar Television Distribution.
"I was a senior vice president at a ripe young age, and, when I came over to Sony, they said, if you want to join our team, you need to become an account executive again," he says. "Having learned from my dad, who ran his own toy company, that you don't let ego get in the way of the right decision, I decided getting on the right team regardless of title was more important than keeping the title without a team."
Weiser worked as an account executive at Columbia TriStar for two years, learning the ins and outs of a true Hollywood studio. In '92, he was promoted to division manager and then moved on up the sales ladder at the Culver City, Calif., studio, working on sales of everything from The Ricki Lake Show
to the most successful off-network syndicated show in TV history: Seinfeld, whose first two off-net cycles have generated more than $2 billion in syndication sales and barter revenue. He took over all sales of the studio's film and TV libraries and now is the head of sales at Columbia TriStar Domestic TV, the newly minted studio responsible for all of Sony's TV product.
"We are the front end of the transformation that almost every studio in Hollywood will soon go through," Weiser says of Sony's new TV structure. "When you look at these deals today, with multiple platforms and creating and sharing windows, we are a company with no walls in between all those areas."
Weiser has come a long way from his meat-and-seafood days and doesn't take any of his success in syndication for granted. That's why he's at the studio lot before sunrise each weekday.
"Doing what I do now is a dream come true, and that's why I rush to work everyday," he says. "I can't get here soon enough."