MGM TV’s new look

Symes to top MGM Worldwide Group

MGM is restructuring its TV division and handing control of all international TV to John P. Symes, who’s been upped to president of the newly created MGM Worldwide TV Group.

Symes, formerly president of MGM worldwide TV, signed a new five-year contract as part of the deal, which consolidates domestic and international TV under one roof.

Symes previously headed all domestic TV, including development, production and distribution of network TV, syndication and animation. International TV was led by Gary Marenzi, who’s ankling for the top international TV job at Paramount (Daily Variety, June 13). The separate division that Marenzi led, called the MGM Telecommunications Group, has now been folded.

As the new Worldwide TV Group president, Symes will add to his domestic TV duties the responsibility for international pay and free TV, including distribution, channel ownership, TV co-production and co-financing. He’ll also be in charge of MGM Gold, the studio’s satellite channel, as well as channel investments in Australia’s Movie Vision, Japan’s Star Channel, Latin America’s CineCanal and Brazil’s Telecine.

Symes will report directly to MGM chairman and CEO Frank G. Mancuso, and the restructuring is clearly a vote of confidence in him. Meanwhile, MGM chief operating officer Robert Pisano, who was Marenzi’s boss, will lose oversight of the international TV division.

While international TV will now report to Symes, he is still expected to name a new president of international to replace Marenzi as early as this week, sources say. Symes is negotiating with a candidate outside the company, although Marenzi’s No. 2, Bill Lee, may still receive some additional duties.

A new head of MGM Gold will also be named shortly, and more changes on the domestic and international front are imminent, Symes said. As part of the consolidation, employees in research, finance, marketing and administration will probably now handle both international and domestic TV. More regional offices will be added overseas, handling both free and pay TV.

The consolidation is coming at the same time MGM is acquiring the Orion library, which Symes said will be “an enormous source of work and revenue for the company.”

Symes has led MGM worldwide TV since 1994, and since then he has built the division up from ground zero. MGM this year produced its first network TV pilot in seven years, “The Magnificent Seven,” for CBS, which is a midseason contender. He also launched several syndie series, including the strip “LAPD” and weekly hours “The Outer Limits,” “Poltergeist: The Legacy,” and the upcoming “Fame L.A.”

Symes joined MGM from Paramount Communications, where he held a number of positions in TV and video over a 15-year period, most recently serving as executive VP of creative affairs for Paramount Network TV. During his tenure there, he helped launch “Frasier,” “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” “Wings” “Cheers” and other series.

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