With top staff members exiting left and right, Roger King has grabbed the reins and once again taken a more active role in running syndication giant King World.
King sold his syndication powerhouse to CBS last year. It was merged it with CBS' Eyemark Entertainment. King is now back in the saddle and has surrounded himself with a staff that looks a lot like the old King World. Nothing too bad there: King World's syndicated offerings are some of the most successful on television.
Almost all of Eyemark's and CBS Enterprises' top executives headed to rivals, leaving loyal King executives back in charge of the company, which is now owned by Viacom.
Within the past two months alone, King World lost almost its entire top tier of executives-most of them former Eyemark executives.
Former King World President Ed Wilson left to run NBC's new syndication unit, King World's former executive vice president Bob Cook was named president of Fox's Twentieth Television last week (see separate story), and Robb Dalton, who was the company's senior vice president of programming, is now the president of new Hollywood player Fireworks Entertainment. All three had been part of the Eyemark/CBS side.
And the list goes on. Eyemark programming executive Ellaine Bower is now the head of Imagine Television's network division, and Jon Hookstratten, Eyemark/King World's senior vice president of business affairs, is now Wilson's second in command at NBC Enterprises.
"When you merge two companies and everyone has the same job capacities being taken care of, some people are going to go on, and we wish them good luck," says King.
"King World was already a major syndicator," he adds, "and, when you merge people in, some people will leave, and some people will stay."
King says neither Wilson nor Cook will be replaced. Rather, it's King who is now taking a more active role in running the company. Longtime King World executives Delilah Loud and Bob Madden also have added responsibilities. Loud has taken over the marketing division from Cook, and Madden, King's longtime attorney, is now the acting chief operating officer.
A number of former Eyemark employees say that Roger King wanted the company to remain the King World of old and that Eyemark executives were encouraged to leave or were dismissed.
"At a sales meeting just after the two companies were coming together, Roger declared that 'Eyemark is dead,'" says a former executive of Eyemark and, then, King World "He just wanted it to be King World, with his people and his staff."
That's just not so, King says.
"I'm not sure what the percentage or the breakdown is between Eyemark and King World people, to be honest with you, but I can tell you it's not all King World people," King says. "The sales team has several people from Eyemark left on it, the international division is run by Armando (Nuñez Jr.), and there are Eyemark and King World people all over the place."
On the programming front, King says his company will be taking former MTV and BET personality Ananda Lewis to NATPE in January in what is likely to be a talk-show format. King says he will be adding personnel to King World's programming staff, which has lost a half-dozen people over the last few months. On the air right now, King World continues to sell
Hollywood Squares, Curtis CourtandInside Edition, not too mentionOprah, Jeopardyand
Wheel of Fortune.A handful of former employees say that, during the transition in ownership, Roger King had almost been an "outsider" at the company, remaining almost full-time at his Florida home.
Again, King says that is not the case. He says he has spent the past two months in Los Angeles at a hotel, working with CBS-TV CEO Les Moonves and fellow King World executives on what he described as "production and organizational problems" stemming from the mergers.
"I've always been hands-on. People must think I took a vacation or something. I've worked very hard for most of my life, and I would be heartbroken if I weren't active in the business," King says. "I haven't gone anywhere."
One thing seems to be clear. The old King World, which threw lavish parties at NATPE and throughout the year, has changed its ways under Viacom's Mel Karmazin and Sumner Redstone. The new King World has to be "very, very frugal," says one departed exec. So, unlike two years ago, when King World rented the New Orleans Superdome for a private Elton John concert where Roger and Michael King were as much the stars as the rock singer, this year King World will be throwing more-modest dinner parties at NATPE.