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Talk is more than words

With two back-to-back mergers rocking King World in 1999 (being acquired by CBS in April 1999, which, in turn, was acquired by Viacom) the studio definitely started 2000 with a bang. It also spent much of the year going through some tough but necessary corporate shifting. Nonetheless, King World CEO Roger King says the distributor is raring to go in 2001.

For starters, King World just locked up its prized talker Oprah
through 2004 and grabbed a slew of renewals for the show with many ABC O & Os. King World is also set to launch Ananda, a new chat strip next fall. Besides that, King World continues to distribute syndicated Energizer bunnies Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy
and Inside Edition.

But King recalls recent heartache, which stemmed from seeing several executives crowded out of certain positions during the merger with CBS' in-house syndication division Eyemark Entertainment. "There were a lot of talented people," says King. "We had two of everything, but every one of them has been taken care of."

And those that exited have snagged some nice jobs. Former King World President Ed Wilson heads NBC's new syndication division; its Marketing Chief Bob Cook landed Twentieth Television's top spot; and Senior Programmer Robb Dalton nabbed a top post at Fireworks Entertainment. Still, all three came out of Eyemark's ranks.

Nevertheless, "CBS really shined," says King. "There was some frustration.for the people who stayed and for the people who left.but we wish them all the luck in the world. They're going on to bigger and better things."

And it appears King is on to bigger things as well at King World, becoming more active in its day-to-day operations. He has been key in nabbing station clearances for Ananda, which at press time, arguably has the most pre-NATPE clearances. He also led the charge to keep Oprah
on the air through 2004.

"Quite frankly during some of that frustrating time I didn't like it that much," says King, admitting to times he stepped back from his usual work routine. "But I have a passion for this business. And I'm not here because of the money. My family and children can't spend the money that I make, and I'm blessed."

As far as what happens to King World now that it is rubbing elbows with Viacom-owned syndicator Paramount Domestic Television, King believes things will work out fine. "I can tell you that I talked to [CBS leaders] Mel Karmazin and Leslie Moonves and [Viacom chief] Sumner Redstone," says King, "and they intend to keep these companies separate."

King adds that, as always, "we'll compete against each other. They have to run their company. And I have to run mine."

The two studios will have to go after the same station-group partner, the CBS O & Os. Recently, King World one-upped Paramount, moving in its rookie Curtis Court
and sophomore talker Martha Stewart Living
to cozy afternoon periods on CBS stations, replacing Paramount's freshman Dr. Laura
after that show was booted to 2 a.m. But since neither Curtis Court
nor Martha Stewart
have been ratings standouts, Paramount could get a chance to answer back with its own programming. As for the future, King World will stick with what it seems to do best: talk and games.

"When that comet is getting ready to hit earth, there'll be a talk show reporting it, and there'll be a 'wheel of fortune' spinning [people's fates]," jokes King. But, he adds seriously, "if you only had Wheel of Fortune
and Jeopardy
in your life, then you'd be very successful. We're talking 20-year hits. And count in Oprah
and Inside Edition, which are going on 14 years."

The secret to these shows is their powerful formats, but "they've been upgraded tremendously," says King, pointing out Wheel of Fortune
has been enlivened with more high-ticket prizes and Inside Edition, today anchored by Deborah Norville, has been freshened up with new hosts over the years.

"It's fun when you can work on a hit," says King. "It makes you younger."