Pinkslips for trio of MTM Worldwide exex

Just days after deciding to cancel its pricey new weekly series “The Cape,” MTM Worldwide Distribution cleaned house Thursday by letting go its top executive, Chuck Larsen, and two other domestic salesmen.

In addition to Larsen, president of MTM Worldwide Distribution, those leaving the company are the No. 2 domestic sales executive, Joe Weber, who is VP/general sales manager for MTM TV Distribution. The company also shut down the Atlanta office run by Steve Barbour, VP/Southeast Regional Sales.

Greg Phillips, president of MTM Intl., will take over Larsen’s L.A.-based job as president of MTM Worldwide Distribution. Phillips currently works out of London, and he’ll now commute between the two cities, according to Tony Thomopoulos, CEO of MTM Entertainment. The other executives will not be replaced, and Thomopoulos said there will be no more cuts in the near future.

Still in the firstrun biz

MTM does not plan to exit the firstrun syndication business, but with no firstrun projects going on the air this fall, and the off-nets “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” and “America’s Funniest Home Videos” already sold, MTM took a look at the bottom line and decided to streamline its operations.

“We are in the domestic syndication business,” Thomopoulos said. “We are not getting out. We’re developing for 1998.”

“The Cape,” which starred Corbin Bernsen and cost an estimated $900,000 an episode to produce, was facing a loss of key timeslots next season, despite renewals in 60% of the country. Given the crowded weekly marketplace and lower-than-expected ratings for “The Cape,” MTM faced the prospect of holding onto a money-loser, even with some key international sales.

“The Cape” averaged a low 2.1 rating during the four weeks overlapping the February sweeps. “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman,” which is poorly cleared in some key markets, averaged a 1.7 in February.

Parent in talks

Sources say MTM’s parent company, Intl. Family Entertainment, which also owns the Family Channel, has focused heavily on the bottom line this past year. The company has been rumored to be in talks with News Corp. and others about a possible merger or sale of the company, but Thomopoulos said those rumors are unrelated to the cuts.

“The company is not up for sale,” Thomopoulos said. “The company has explored strategic alliances, but whether or not we make strategic alliances has little impact on MTM.”

Thomopoulos added that he’s happy with the performance of MTM’s network business, producing “The Pretender” as well as “Dr. Quinn.” For his part, Larsen said the split was amicable: “I’m very proud of what we accomplished at MTM and wish all the best of luck to them. We’re parting on very good terms.”

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