Michael King, the syndication mogul who, with his older brother Roger, helped launch Oprah Winfrey’s talk show, “Dr. Phil,” “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy” into hugely profitable syndication franchises, died Wednesday at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was 67.
King died of complications from pneumonia. He had mostly been retired from the TV biz ever since the brothers sold their King World Productions banner to CBS for $2.5 billion in early 2000. Roger King died in late 2007.
The company was launched in the 1950s by their father, Charles King. It started out selling rerun packages of “The Little Rascals” and other vintage programs to local TV and radio stations. By the time Roger and Michael took the reins in the late 1970s, they were well positioned to capitalize on the demand for high-end nationally syndicated shows as TV stations around the country began moving away from locally produced programs in key afternoon and early evening time periods.
Winfrey was a local talk show host at ABC O&O WLS-TV in Chicago when an exec there suggested she work with the King brothers to take her show national. She became an overnight smash in the fall of 1986. The brothers also partnered with Merv Griffin to turn new iterations of pre-existing game show formats “Wheel” and “Jeopardy” into early evening powerhouses that continue today.
“Anyone that knew Michael knows what a passion he brought to everything he touched. He and Roger certainly had a profound impact on my life personally and professionally,” said “Dr. Phil” host Dr. Phil McGraw.
A native of New Jersey, Michael was one of six children in a tight-knit family. Thanks to his father’s example, Michael grew up expecting to work in the television business. “Our whole family always did fun stuff together, and we were always talking about the business we revered and how we were going to grow in it,” he told Variety in 2007 following Roger’s death from a stroke at age 63.
The King brothers were known for their showmanship and bravado, especially after their shows began turning out hundreds of millions of dollars in profits every year. Michael was often overshadowed by his larger-than-life older brother. Roger King was known for his prowess as a salesman, while Michael was known for focusing on marketing and production matters.
For the past decade, Michael King headed the King Sports Worldwide banner, a boxing promotion company based in Los Angeles. In the 1990s and early 2000s he was a part owner of the New Jersey Devils NHL franchise, which later merged with the New York Yankees.
Survivors include his wife of more than 20 years, Jena; two daughters and two sons.
(Pictured: Michael King and Jena King)
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to reflect that King was 67 and died of complications from pneumonia.