Ed Wilson and Bob Cook became more than just colleagues while working together at Columbia TriStar Television Distribution in the early '90s-they became entrepreneurs.
Wilson, now president of NBC Enterprises and Syndication, was a sales executive on the rise the time, while Cook, the new president of Twentieth Television, was a marketing expert who handled promotion and advertising on all of the studio's syndication offerings. Wilson and Cook helped launch Ricki Lake
in off-network syndication.
And after a few years of working together, Cook and Wilson decided that they could do this on their own. So they devised a business plan for their own syndication studio, held their breath and took the plunge. In 1994, Wilson, Cook and station group A.H. Belo opened the doors at MaXam Entertainment.
"The idea was all Bob's, because I wasn't really that entrepreneurial," says Wilson. "He had done all of these off-the-wall things, like buying a railroad car full of nails when he was in college and then turning around and selling the nails to contractors."
In MaXam's first season, the studio distributed a talk show called J & I,
weekend series PSI
Factor: Chronicles of the Paranormal, Extremists
with volleyball star Gabriel Reece and a Hallmark Hall of Fame
movie package. For a small, startup distribution company, it wasn't too shabby, Wilson and Cook now say. But the plans for MaXam were bigger than just first-run: It was designed to handle off-network sales for the networks, and that's where it ran into some problems.
"We were actively bidding for off-network properties at ABC, CBS and elsewhere because we thought that was going to be our opportunity," says Cook. "But things changed almost overnight with consolidation in the industry because of the fin-syn rules. ABC became Disney and CBS became Group W. All of a sudden the networks had syndication companies and our opportunities dried up quickly."
By the end of 1995, the writing was on the wall, and A. H. Belo executives wanted out, triggering MaXam's sale to CBS in 1996.
All three divisions were later molded into CBS Enterprises/Eyemark Entertainment, which Wilson was named president of and Cook executive vice president.
When CBS' acquisition of King World was completed last year, King World and Eyemark were merged under the King World banner. Wilson and Cook retained similar positions, but both were under Roger King's authority-no longer running their own ship. Their entrepreneurial spirit called-as did rival studios. Wilson and Cook left late last year for NBC and Fox, respectively.