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Barry Thurston is a firm go

Columbia TriStar Television Distribution executive Barry Thurston is stepping down as president of the Sony-owned company's syndication division, ending a career that began at the studio more than 17 years ago and ushering in a new era.

Thurston, who was at the studio from Sanford & Son to Seinfeld, will officially leave the Culver City, Calif., unit on July 1. CTTD's Executive Vice President of Sales Steve Mosko is expected to be named Thurston's replacement within the month. Mosko has been running Columbia TriStar's syndication sales division since 1994, and he's been with the studio since 1992.

Thurston led CTTD since 1992, boom years financially, especially with off-network sitcom sales of shows like Seinfeld. That comedy alone is expected to gross well over $2 billion in syndication revenue in its first two cycles of syndication, and a third cycle of sales will likely follow in a few years. Thurston oversaw both sales efforts on Seinfeld and also the distribution efforts on recent hits Mad About You and Married.With Children.

Thurston's career reaches back to the days of Embassy Communications and then Coca-Cola's involvement in Columbia in the mid-80s. But last week, he said, "It was time, my time, to move on. I have been lucky enough to have been surrounded by really good people, and, as a team, we have positioned this company where it is today. My stay here was filled with certain goals and strategies that I think we have helped accomplish. My career has been a lot about timing, and I believe that, for me, this is the right time for a new challenge."

It may be a little more complicated than that. Thurston had been rumored to be in line for a promotion at the studio for the last several months, possibly into a position overseeing both Columbia TriStar's syndication and network television efforts. But that possibility was quashed last month when new Sony Pictures Entertainment President and COO Mel Harris hired former UPN executive Len Grossi to oversee Columbia TriStar's network television efforts.

"Barry has been a major contributor to the television accomplishments at Sony Pictures Entertainment," says Harris. "His sales and programming skills are renowned throughout the industry, and he leaves a strong and vibrant enterprise. Barry has been a close business associate of mine for 30 years, and I'll miss his presence."

Thurston won't discuss what went down at the studio, but he says that he has no plans to retire, and that he's looking forward to a new spot, most likely in the television industry. He says he is leaving Columbia TriStar on his own volition, and that the timing was right contractually.

He's a battler, those who know him are quick to point out. "Barry was just about the most ferocious competitor I have ever come up against, and he's also a friend and a wonderful person," says Thurston's longtime rival Dick Robertson, president of Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution. "And there is a piece of me that is happy that I won't be directly competing against him anymore. But there is also a piece that is sad that we won't be duking it out like we have for years, because I always felt selfishly that he brought out the best in me, because he was so tough, so aggressive and so smart."

On the first-run side, CTTD will have 13 original series on broadcast and cable outlets this fall, including three new syndication efforts. The studio is currently preparing to launch weekly series Sheena, court show Judge Hatchett and a talk show based on the best-selling book Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. Other first-run shows that debuted during his tenure include The Ricki Lake Show, Donny and Marie and V.I.P. On cable, Columbia produces TBS' Ripley's Believe It Or Not and Showtime's drama Rude Awakening, and the studio will unveil Whoopi Goldberg's Strong Medicine on Lifetime this fall. Also during Thurston's watch, the studio created Columbia TriStar Advertiser Sales, which handles all advertising efforts for CTTD programs and those of co-owned The Game Show Network, DirecTV and other syndicated properties.

Mosko has also been a big part of CTTD's success over the last several years, overseeing the studio's five regional sales offices. Mosko started at the studio eight years ago as vice president of CTTD's Western sales region and moved up the ranks into his current position in 1998. Prior to joining the studio, Mosko was vice president and general manager at WPHL-TV Philadelphia. Mosko is also the acting chairman of the National Association of Television Programming Executives (NATPE).