A Small Syndicator's Big Success
Dave Morgan traded in his rock 'n' roll shoes when he was still in his 20s, and instead became a television entrepreneur.
Morgan, who has run his own syndication company, Litton Entertainment, for the past 20 years, joined his first rock band at age 9. He played guitar in a group called Salt and Pepper (not to be confused with the hip-hop group Salt-N-Pepa) and spent his college years at Frostburg State in a number of popular bar bands, including the James Offie Band and Fat Tuesday.
It seemed like the road to a glamorous life, but Morgan quickly discovered playing music for a living was harder than it looked. “The goal eventually became to sleep in my own bed someday,” he says. “I really had done the music thing by 22 years old, and I was starting to realize that wasn't what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.”
Being a creative person—today he still composes and plays music, and crafts furniture by hand—media made sense to him. “I went from media buying to radio to television in a 25-month span,” he says. “When I got to television, it was obvious I had found exactly what I wanted to do.”
Morgan made a quick impression as a salesman traveling around the Mid-Atlantic region representing his TV station, Taft-owned WDCA Washington, D.C., which is now a News Corp.-owned Fox station. “I was rolling, I was single and I was in D.C.,” he reminisces. “That was a great time.”
But Morgan's sights still were set higher, and in 1986 he got the opportunity to work for Washington-based Katz Television, which represented TV stations among major national and regional advertisers. In the two years that Morgan was there, he learned the agency side of the business while meeting station managers all over the country.
“These people were close to my age and they became my friends,” he says. “Today, they are the national sales managers or they run the TV groups. Working at Katz made the most impact on my career because it allowed me to create Litton.”
In 1988, with a new wife at home and his first child on the way, Morgan decided what he was really meant to do was run his own company. “At Katz, I was able to sit in on some programming pitches,” he says. “I did the math and realized that the major studios could only bring out one or two projects at a time. I thought there were a lot of good ideas that the majors left on the cutting-room floor. I liked those odds.
“I opened a business that appealed to the independent producers, the ones that didn't want to work with a major studio or weren't big enough,” Morgan adds. “And my relationships with decision-makers leapfrogged me over others.”
Morgan's first projects were a series of one-hour sports specials that he produced and sold to TV stations. He had no idea if they would sell, but he went after the market with enthusiasm. In 1989, one month before his new company ran out of money, proceeds from his first sales started rolling in.
“Failure wasn't an option,” he says. Perhaps that's because failure never occurred to the relentlessly upbeat Morgan, who was so sure of himself that he set up shop in Charleston, S.C., just because he and his wife, Lissy, liked it there and thought it was a good place to raise a family, even though almost all entertainment business is conducted in New York or Los Angeles.
“I was at one of the first stations to take one of his first shows,” says Art Moore, VP of production at WABC New York. “It was a one-time special on bowling hosted by sportscaster Chris Schenkel. Dave just called me up in New York and I took the show over the phone. I remember saying to him, 'That was the easiest sale you ever made in your life.'”
Moore also bought Litton's first weekly series, Jack Hanna's Animal Adventures, in 1990, a show that still airs today. Morgan thought Hanna had the talent to become the next Marlin Perkins, and he also knew that TV stations had to fulfill their new FCC requirement to air three hours of educational and informational children's programming each week. He was right, and he was on his way.
“Dave has unbridled enthusiasm,” remarks Emerson Coleman, Hearst-Argyle's VP of programming. “He's done a remarkable job with a company that I think is very well positioned for the future.”
Today, Litton produces shows, distributes acquired and original programming, and runs a division that focuses on news-based programs. Besides production and syndication, Litton also quietly works in media sales, creating sponsored interstitials for big advertisers such as Kraft and Frito-Lay.
With offices in Manhattan, Burbank, Dallas, Atlanta and Charleston, S.C., the company's list of original and acquired programs keeps expanding. Jack Hanna remains on that roster, as well as NASCAR Angels and BusinessWeek TV. Litton's acquired programs include the off-MTV trio of Cribs, Pimp My Ride and Date My Mom. And new for 2008, Litton has sold stations Storm Stories off The Weather Channel. For fall 2009, Litton is offering TV stations Street Court, a different spin on the established court genre.
Litton News Services includes programs such as Good Housekeeping Reports, Brighter Living With Jill Cordes, BusinessWeek Reports From Wall Street, Standard & Poor's Customized Reports and Consumer Reports.
“It's pretty rare in the syndication area that the guy who is syndicating a program is also one of the chief creators,” says Jeff Sagansky, chairman of Peace Arch Entertainment and the former head of Paxson Communications. “He's one part entrepreneur, one part creator and 100% salesman.”
Morgan says he still considers the business a sport he loves playing: “Something I always say is that I love the individual sport of creating ideas, I love the interactive sport of selling ideas and I love the collaborative sport of executing ideas.”
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Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.