How Michael King Bought 'Wheel of Fortune' for $50,000 and Turned It Into a Smash
Producer Andy Friendly recalls to THR how the TV syndication pioneer, who died May 27, "was larger than life, a true visionary and a loving and charitable family man."
This story first appeared in the June 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
During the early 1980s, Michael King and his brothers Roger and Bob ran a fledgling TV syndication business from their kitchen in a New York apartment. Somehow these young guys got a meeting with Merv Griffin and offered the legendary creator of Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! the laughable sum of $50,000 for the rights to take the soon-to-be-canceled network franchises into the unknown market of first-run syndication. Griffin laughed, and with nothing to lose, he agreed to the deal. Within a year, Wheel was No. 1. Jeopardy! followed, then came The Oprah Winfrey Show, starring a little-known host from Chicago. After that, Inside Edition launched (it's still in the top 10 after 25-plus years), followed by the new Hollywood Squares with Whoopi Goldberg, and on and on.
I was lucky enough to run programming and production for King World when Michael was CEO. He pushed us harder than we'd ever been pushed. He could be tough, but he was passionate and cared deeply. When other TV magazines went tabloid, he demanded that Inside Edition create a serious (though expensive) investigative unit, headed by network news producers, to cover consumer rip-offs. In 1996, the show won the prestigious George Polk Award for TV journalism — I'd never seen him prouder.
Michael, who died May 27 of pneumonia at age 67, was larger than life, a true visionary and a loving and charitable family man. He had a gift for discovering bright diamonds in the rough, but one of the biggest stars in the constellation was Michael himself.
Andy Friendly was president of programming and production at King World/CBS from 1995 to 2001.