Sony Television Entertainment and King World Prods, are said to be near a deal to form a strategic alliance that will include Columbia TriStar Television, the studio’s international TV distribution arm, domestic sales barter unit and Sony’s Game Show Network, according to industry sources.

Although talks are still at a delicate stage, it is expected that as part of the alliance King World will take an ownership stake in the Game Show Network, marking the syndication giant’s official entry into the cable business. A final pact could be reached any day.

Spokesmen for King World and Sony Television Entertainment declined to comment.

‘Squares’ deal

Talks between King World and Sony started several months ago when King World announced plans to launch a new version of the “Planet Hollywood Squares” gameshow in a partnership with the Planet Hollywood restaurant chain.

However, Sony – which produces “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy!” for King World – has a deal with the syndicator that prohibits King World from introducing new gameshows without approval from the studio.

As part of the deal, Sony TV’s Columbia TriStar Television will produce “Planet Hollywood Squares” with King World and Planet Hollywood Inc., according to sources familiar with the talks.

King World will distribute “Planet Hollywood Squares” domestically, as well as distribute and co-produce what will likely be a remake of one of three Chuck Barris gameshows

- “The Dating Game,” “The Newlywed Game” or “The Gong Show” – with one of Sony Television Entertainment’s production arms. Columbia will have international distribution rights to the shows. Both syndie series will be sold on a cash-plus-barter basis. King World’s Camelot sales arm is expected to sell time for “Planet Hollywood Squares.” Columbia TriStar Advertiser Sales will handle ad inventory for the Barris show it decides to take out.

King World has a strong distribution track record with gameshows, and the partners probably figured it would be better to have one company handle both programs for the station market. It’s often easier to sell an hour block these days than just one 30-minute strip.

Gameshows are making a comeback this year with other syndicators. Tribune Entertainment and Spelling’s World-vision Enterprises have teamed up for “Swaps,” for instance.

Columbia TriStar Television Distribution also has other development projects in the works for next fall that are not part of this alliance, including a latenight project starring rapper/actor Kid of Kid ‘ n Play.

Ready to grow

For the fledgling Game Show Network, an ownership stake by King World might signal to the cable industry that the studio wants to grow the service. It currently reaches about 3 million homes.

King World brings strong sales resources to the Game Show Network, and its name as a distributor of top gameshows, although it does not have a library of shows.

But King World, which has been looking to get into the cable business for several years, could become a producer for the Game Show Network. The syndicator recently hired former CNBC programming chief Andy Friendly, who has been beefing up the syndicator’s programming staff with the intention of increasing its reach.

Exact terms of King World’s investment in the Game Show Network have not been settled yet. The syndicator could make an equity investment in the network or take a revenue-sharing position when the network hits black ink.

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