Universal TV Group chairman Gregory Meidel is in serious talks with DreamWorks’ syndication co-chief Ken Solomon about taking the post of Universal TV president, which Tom Thayer announced last week he’d be vacating.Sources say a deal is not yet done, but Solomon is Meidel’s top choice, and DreamWorks is giving him permission to negotiate. Universal had no comment, and Solomon did not return phone calls seeking comment, but sources say a deal could be finalized as early as this week.
If Meidel strikes a deal with Solomon, he probably won’t start immediately. Thayer, who is exiting to take a production deal at U, plans to stay on until August (Daily Variety, June 5). Thayer is the last major division chief to leave his post since Meidel took over as chairman early last year.
Solomon and Meidel have a strong relationship from the days when the two worked together as syndication executives at Twentieth TV and Paramount. Solomon was the No. 2 sales executive at Twentieth TV when Meidel was president. He was a regional sales executive at Par and a vice president at Disney’s syndication division, Buena Vista TV.
Given his background in syndication sales, some industry insiders were expressing surprise at the potential choice of Solomon for the top network TV development job. Solomon did, however, work for the Fox Broadcasting Co. as executive vice president of network distribution before heading to DreamWorks in 1995 and some execs note his eye for programming.
And, with no off-net product yet to peddle, Solomon has focused more on program development since he’s been with DreamWorks. He was central to the signing of Connie Chung and Maury Povich to front a new syndie access strip for 1998, which was recently pulled off the market after DreamWorks had trouble finding a station home for it.
Some syndication veterans believe the pulling of the show had as much to do with a tough syndication marketplace, which now favors in-house deals, than with the program itself.
CBS stations were the most likely home for the project, but the CBS syndication division, Eyemark Entertainment, is expected to take a crack at developing its own project for that access timeslot.
Solomon also helped develop a gameshow at DreamWorks, “Majority Rules,” hosted by Arthel Neville. “Rules” was launched in two cities but did not get a nationwide rollout. With no syndie product on the air and no station outlets of its own, DreamWorks has little leverage to launch new syndie projects.
If Solomon takes the Universal job, he may have even a tougher challenge ahead. Universal’s network production arm has lagged behind that of other studios, and U has just had a disheartening year in terms of network pickups.
The studio sold three new dramas and one new comedy for this summer and fall, and it has had success with returning drama “Law & Order” on NBC. But the studio needs to get and keep some comedies on the air, because comedies have much greater prospects in the syndication backend.
If Solomon and Meidel don’t come to terms, sources say Meidel still has a short list of candidates he’s considering.