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The Biggest Rascal

Roger King was a big man with a big appetite for success. Victory was closing the deal, which he did probably for more dough, with more flair and a greater variety of inducements than any other syndication executive. And with a smile as big as the payoff.

He didn't just throw a party for affiliates who agreed to buy his Whoopi Goldberg-hosted revival of Hollywood Squares (among the shows he tried that didn't quite have the staying power of Wheel of Fortune). No, he rented out the New Orleans Superdome and had Elton John play for the private party. It's hard to believe he started out selling The Little Rascals.

Make no mistake: Roger drove a hard bargain, but his King World was the king of NATPE for years, with its staple shows Wheel and Jeopardy!, and then Oprah. Oh, there was also The David Brenner Show, True Confessions and Headline Chasers from King World that failed just like a lot of other shows. But King World took much of the drama out of the annual tote-boarding of clearances. The convention came to seem more like an annual coronation for Roger and brother Michael. They were always cooking something up.

King World's success made it a prime target and CBS eventually put its imprint—and its name—on the company, but the irrepressible Roger King was a force of nature and an outsized personality who continued to dominate.

This year, CBS Television Distribution, the corporate body that includes what was once King World, announced it is skipping NATPE. With content now moving to the Web and some NATPE exhibitors moving to the Consumer Electronics Show, it's hard not to see Roger King's death as the end of an era in a syndication business that will have to transform itself, as will every other media business.