Feltheimer tops new Col/TriStar TV entity

Sony Pictures Entertainment TV Group left more questions than answers Monday in confirming a consolidation of all TV production under TriStar TV prexy Jon Feltheimer.

Conspicuous by his absence from a company press release was Columbia Pictures TV prexy Scott Siegler, and it remains unclear whether the restructuring — under the new moniker Columbia TriStar TV — will prompt other reductions in staffing.

Officials declined comment regarding Siegler, but sources say he is settling out his deal, which has more than a year remaining on it. Siegler, who was said to have been caught off guard when reports of the shift first surfaced, couldn’t be reached for comment.

Sony executives did say that the move was motivated by a desire to strengthen the studio’s production arms, not specifically to cut costs,

and that the Columbia and TriStar banners will each remain in existence and creatively autonomous, though they acknowledged that parts of the marriage were still being worked out.

Under the new structure, Feltheimer, 42, becomes president of Columbia TriStar TV, while Andrew J. Kaplan, 33, previously exec VP of the Sony Pictures Entertainment TV Group, assumes the post of senior exec VP at the combined production operation. That umbrella, in addition to Columbia and TriStar, will overseeMerv Griffin Enterprises, international productions and Sony’s arrangements with such entities as Brillstein/Grey Entertainment.

Assuming Siegler leaves, sources say the move could also herald greater responsibility for Eric Tannenbaum and possibly Jeff Wachtel, exec veepees at TriStar and Columbia, respectively.

The company’s distribution chiefs, domestic syndication boss Barry Thurston and Columbia TriStar Intl. TV’s Nicholas Bingham, will each continue operating independently reporting to SPE TV Group prez Mel Harris.

The U.S. syndication wing will be renamed to mirror its counterpart, becoming Columbia TriStar TV Distribution.

Harris said the change wasn’t motivated by economic concerns, but rather a model he envisioned for “more cooperative efforts, entrepreneurially executed” from production divisions.

He added that the timing wasn’t connected to the company’s fiscal year, which ends soon, and “didn’t have anything to do with what happened at the film division.” A similar structure was recently established on the feature side, placing both Columbia and TriStar under the aegis of Mark Canton following the departure of Mike Medavoy.

Feltheimer, for his part, said there were “tremendous advantages” to having separate brand names, offering the prospect of “different kinds of shows from the different labels. … Each will have its own identity.”

Outsiders remain skeptical about the long-term prospects of the two creative units remaining separate. Industry sources have long anticipated a possible consolidation under Feltheimer, a smooth political operator who came to Sony in October 1991, bringing with him most key staff and assets from New World Entertainment — used by Sony as the basis for reactivating the TriStar TV banner.

Unlike Warner Bros., however, the gulf between the performance of the two Sony divisions hasn’t been that wide. TriStar has generated what could be a significant syndication hit, the sophomore NBC sitcom “Mad About You,” as well as “The Nanny,” a favorite of CBS officials that has yet to win such popularity with viewers.

Columbia, in fact, has been more prolific in terms of selling series, though that recent run has yet to produce a clear success. Its current roster includes such series as “Birdland,””The Critic,””Phenom” and the long-running hit “Married … With Children.”

One danger in the timing of the move is that it could leave a cloud over Columbia projects in the midst of development season. Columbia has already sold a handful of pilots, among them a new NBC drama starring Melissa Gilbert and Cicely Tyson.

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