Syndication Legend Roger King Dies

Roger King

, the larger-than-life syndication executive behind Jeopardy!, Wheel of Fortune and The Oprah Winfrey Show, died Saturday after a suffering a stroke Friday morning at his home in Boca Raton, Fla. He was 63.

As head of King World Productions, King launched some of the most successful first-run syndicated programs, including Oprah, Dr. Philand Rachael Ray. In September 2006, he became CEO of CBS Television Distribution, which comprises King World, CBS Paramount Domestic Television, CBS Paramount International Television and CBS Consumer Products.

“Television has lost a legend -- a truly original executive with an unparalleled combination of business acumen, passion and personality," CBS president and CEO Leslie Moonves said. "CBS has lost a colleague and a good friend. It's a very sad day for CBS and for all of broadcasting.”

As head of King World, King helped to transform the syndicated-programming business with the launch, sales and marketing of powerhouses like Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune, the No. 1 syndicated show for the past two decades. After helping Oprah Winfrey to achieve iconic status, he used her top-rated daytime talk show to launch successful spinoffs in Dr. Phil and Rachael Ray, both of which enjoyed high-rated debuts. The Oprah Winfrey Show and Dr. Phil are both sold for the next several years.

This fall, King's latest franchise, The Doctors, began gaining clearances in top markets for a fall-2008 debut. CBS Television Distribution developed the one-hour show hosted by a dream-team of medical specialists, with Dr. Phil McGraw and his son, Jay.

“This is one of the most exciting launches we’ve had since Dr. Phil,” King said in October. “Every major broadcast group in the country has been talking about it. It’s really fun to introduce a whole new genre to first-run syndication, and it’ll take CBS Television Distribution to even greater heights.”

In late October, CBS Television Distribution revealed that it will skip the National Association of Television Programming Executives conference in January, the annual syndication gathering that rose to prominence thanks largely to King.

King and his five siblings gained control of King World in 1972 when their father, Charles King, who founded the company eight years earlier, passed away. Roger and brother Charles built the company and Roger had run the company solo since 1999 when it merged with CBS.

At first, King World licensed rights to 1930s black-and-white films and then repackaged and distributed them. But the company grew into a far more intricate and mature operation, beginning with first-run games shows like Joker's Wild and Tic Tac Dough in the 1970s. Perhaps the biggest milestone came in 1983, though, when the brothers launched their own syndicated version of NBC's Wheel of Fortune, which had failed in some markets. King World's version launched on 59 stations and then expanded to bigger markets. The company went on to develop Jeopardy!, licensed from Merv Griffin, and later expanded successfully into the talk genre.

CBS Television Distribution issued several statements for those in the syndication world mourning King's death.

"All of us in the industry have known and respected Roger for many years," said Entertainment Tonight host Mary Hart. "His passing is a great loss. On behalf of everyone at Entertainment Tonight, our condolences go out to the King family. We share their grief and mourn the death of a wonderful man and true television legend."

"My heartfelt condolences go out to the entire King family," added Judge Judy Sheindlin of top-rated court show Judge Judy. "Roger left a legacy of thousands of hours of entertainment for millions of people."

"Roger loved what he did and it showed!" said Wheel of Fortune's Vanna White. "He was always full of spunk and laughter. I will miss him, especially his jokes!"

King is survived by his wife, Raemali, and three daughters, Kellie, Anna Rose and Lucinda Monroe.

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