Cover Story Michael King’s World Photo: Michael King with Oprah Winfrey

By Angelo Carfagna

His father built the foundation, purchasing the television rights to “The Little Rascals” and creating King World Productions, Inc. in l964. But it was Michael King, BS’7l (M), and his brother Roger who led the struggling company’s astounding ascent to the top of the
syndication business.


The success of the brothers King is the stuff of Hollywood legends and, today, King World Productions is the dominant company in television syndication, distributing five of the top 10 daily syndicated series. Now a division of CBS Enterprises, King World boasts an all-star lineup of daily and weekly programs that includes America’s favorite game show, “Wheel of Fortune”; the immensely popular quiz show “Jeopardy”; the number one-rated talk series, “The Oprah Winfrey Show”; as well as other popular programs like “Dr. Phil,” “Inside Edition” and “Everybody Loves Raymond.”

Michael King has scaled back his duties slightly, acting as an adviser and consultant, but he’s hardly resting on his laurels. He remains busy with numerous entertainment and business ventures and investments.

During his amazing career, King has certainly amassed fame and fortune, but he’s most proud of his legacy forged in broadcasting, a legacy that was perhaps most poignantly honored in the early 1990s when he was part of the first group of inductees to the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame. “To be recognized by those who define broadcasting was very special.”

His alma mater also has honored King, inducting him as a charter member of The PINNACLE for outstanding alumni in 1989, and presenting him an honorary doctor of laws degree in 1993. His citation, which was presented during that year’s commencement, captured the essence of King when it described him as an “entrepreneur of the first rank … salesman in the tradition of your legendary father, Charlie … creative corporate executive … and outstanding alumnus.”

His Father’s Footsteps

Influenced profoundly by his father, Michael King says he always wanted to make his mark in broadcasting. Charles King was a successful radio producer and syndicator who traveled the country selling radio programs to local stations.

When television’s popularity soared in the 1950s, his business was hit hard. But in 1964, he formed King World Productions and, with just six dollars in his pocket, bought the syndication rights to the classic children’s series, “The Little Rascals.” He predicted the bold move “would take King World to the top of the world.”

Early on, though, it was more like a series of ups and downs. King recalls that his family moved “about 19 times, from limousines and estates to $150-a-month rental homes.”

In 1972, while on the road selling the “Rascals” reruns, Charles King suffered a heart attack and died. He didn’t leave his children much money, but he did pass on a dream and many pearls of wisdom. “My father had a lot of great philosophies,” recalls King. “He used to say, ‘Find a profession you love, and give it everything you have.’ That is what I have tried to do.”

The Early Days

King was barely out of college at the time of his father’s death. At Fairleigh Dickinson, he says, he learned “how to find the answers. You’re not always going to have all the answers, but you have to know how to find them. FDU really helped me in that regard. I received a great education, and FDU played a big part in my success.”

After graduating from FDU with a degree in marketing and a minor in broadcast communications, King began working in radio. He sold advertising time for WORC-AM in Worcester, Mass., and then joined WAAF-FM in Worcester as sales manager and eventually became part owner. But the family business beckoned, and he sold his interest in the station to focus on building King World.

Led by Michael King, left, and his brother Roger, King World soared to the top of the syndication business.

In the 1970s, King World was headquartered in two rooms above a barbershop in New Providence, N.J., and Michael King assumed the presidency at a salary of $150 a week. He also took a second job as a sales representative with another television syndicator, gaining valuable sales experience and making extensive contacts.

In 1983, King World purchased the syndication rights for a little-known game show called “Wheel of Fortune” from Merv Griffin, who at first ignored the King World offer. When asked why he didn’t return the company’s calls, Griffin said he had never heard of King World, adding, “The entire world had not heard of them.” That was about to change.

The Empire Grows

King World persuaded Griffin to up the prizes for the shows. The firm also moved the program to prime time and ratings took off. Eventually, “Wheel of Fortune” would become the highest revenue-producing show in television history.

King World next acquired the rights to “Jeopardy” and the “Oprah Winfrey Show,” giving the firm three of the top four syndicated shows in the country. The company went public, profits soared and more than 100 million Americans daily watched shows syndicated by King World.

With older brother Roger as chairman and Michael as president and CEO, King World developed a reputation for innovation and aggressiveness. Michael ran the company from Los Angeles, and Roger was based in New York. Other siblings also were involved closely with the firm and the family became one of the wealthiest in the nation. Business Journal of New Jersey once referred to the Kings as “the first family of television.”

To build the business, King’s philosophy was simply “to go with the best product I believe people will respond to. The product itself is the key.” He also believes that stars are vital to the success of a program; stars like Oprah Winfrey, Pat Sajak and Vanna White.




Of Winfrey, he says, “We knew she was a terrific talent, and she took the talk show format another step. It was a groundbreaking show that provided valuable information and dealt with subjects in a nonexploitative manner.”

Despite the incredible rise of King World, King says he and his firm never grew complacent. “In this business, you fear it could all end tomorrow. We built a very powerful independent company, but you’re only as good as the last ratings.”

So King World continued to develop and diversify. They began selling their own productions like the hit program “Inside Edition,” now the longest-running and highest-rated television newsmagazine in syndication. The company also branched out internationally while continuing to find top shows to syndicate. In the last few years, it has added “Dr. Phil” as well as smash hits “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” “CSI: Miami” and “Hollywood Squares.”

The Deal Is Made

In the mid-1990s, King World’s independence in the midst of an industry dominated by giant conglomerates with integrated entertainment holdings was becoming a rarity. Rule changes facilitated mergers and, in 1999, the King brothers joined the frenzy. They agreed to sell the firm to CBS Corp., with Michael King acting in an advisory role.

The move was a win-win situation, says King. “We represented a significant addition for CBS (now owned by Viacom). And we became part of a very exciting company.”

King says that today there is more competition than ever. “In 1983, there were just three channels, and today there are hundreds. The market is fragmented with many forms of entertainment available. It’s much harder to reach people.” He adds with pride, though, that the programs he has believed in have outpaced the competition and stood the test of time. “Look how much has changed since the 1980s, and yet ‘Wheel of Fortune’ is still the number-one syndicated television program 20 years after its debut.”

In addition, “Jeopardy” has ranked number two for 19 seasons and “The Oprah Winfrey Show” has been the number-one rated talk show for the past 17 seasons. King points out that these types of enduring successes are unheard of in the entertainment world.

A board member of the National Hockey League’s New Jersey Devils, who captured the Stanley Cup this year, Michael King enjoyed a day this summer with the prized trophy.

No longer involved in the day-to-day activities of the premier syndication giant, King is active in a wide range of efforts from breeding horses to overseeing investment funds. He also directs some of his energies toward the sports arena. He’s part of an investment group that owns the New Jersey Devils, and he sits on the board of the Stanley Cup champions. In addition, he has investments in boxing. “I love sports. It’s actually not far removed from what I used to do. Sports is entertainment programming, and it’s driven by stars.”

But King has much more than business on his mind these days. Married to Jena, he has three children, Alexandra, 13; Teddy, 7; and Audrey, 5; and relishes spending time with them, particularly during travel vacations to places like Alaska. King today is building a new home for his family in Pacific Palisades, west of Brentwood, Calif.

Devoted to charitable causes, he has also established The Michael King Family Foundation. While he says the foundation benefits numerous efforts, he particularly believes in supporting the advancement of educational programs. “I enjoyed a great opportunity to become a success in this country because I was able to get a good education. Without that, who knows what might have happened. To have an opportunity to succeed you need that foundation of skills.”

While King World is still very much a part of his world, his current activities do finally allow time for some reflection on an incredible story. “We’ve been successful beyond our dreams,” he says. “I’ve worked hard for more than 30 years, and now I’m getting a chance to enjoy life more. It can’t get any better.”



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