George Back, the veteran distributor who has sold syndicated TV programs ranging from “The Mike Douglas Show” in the 1960s and ’70s to “Baywatch” in the ’90s, has engineered a career change: He’s becoming dean of the school of communications at New York’s Hofstra U.
“I’m going to take on the role of media watchdog,” said Back, who has resigned as president of Unapix Syndication but will continue with Unapix as a consultant and director. “It’s definitely a good feeling to be working with students and trying to develop better courses and sharper thinking about where the industry is going in the light of all of the consolidation and vertical integration.”
Move may seem like a 180-degree turn for an exec who has spent more than 30 years fighting in the syndication trenches to get TV stations to clear programs that were often far from top quality — the films Back sold for Unapix Syndication include titles such as “Breeders,” “Strip Search,” “Werewolf,” “Voodoo” and “Hard Vice.”
Ph.D. in TV
But after completing undergraduate work at Hofstra, Back earned a Ph.D. from the media-ecology department at NYU, which published his thesis, bringing together two TV-industry topics that were burning issues throughout the 1970s and ’80s: the financial interest and syndication rules and the primetime access rule.
Back has remained a student of the industry and the changes it has weathered since he began as a salesman at Group W Prods. in the late 1960s.
He became the first executive director of the National Assn. of TV Program Executives and worked at Paramount TV and LBS Communications before setting up his own syndication company, All American TV, which was worth about $17 million in 1990. Back sold All American, which vaulted into prominence on the strength of “Baywatch,” to Pearson TV in 1997 for $515 million.
In October 1998, Unapix Entertainment, eager to get into the TV-syndication business, signed a deal with Back under which he received a 49% stake in a new division, Unapix Syndication.
Back took over as president, focusing mainly on creating syndicated movie packages put together from the exploitation pictures released by the parent company, mostly as direct-to-video titles.
Back will continue at Unapix as a director and an active consultant. Company will draw on Back’s expertise to expand its syndication division and production of reality-based specials for broadcast and cable TV.