Keith Samples leaves MRC

Departure comes in wake of CW series shutdown

With its ambitious TV strategy facing harsh reality in its first real test this fall, indie Media Rights Capital is parting ways with TV head Keith Samples.

Samples, who started the company's TV division 16 months ago and built its programming slate, will officially leave Oct. 31.

Speculation about the departure of Samples -- the architect of MRC's time-buy deal with the CW, under which MRC programs Sunday night for the network -- began early this month. Things intensified when the company shut down production on its two low-rated scripted series for the CW for what MRC claimed was a "planned hiatus."

An MRC spokeswoman denied that Samples is leaving, maintaining that he is "still on board" but "has been focusing more on ad sales in the run-up to CW debuts."

Since its Oct. 5 debut, the CW's Sunday night block -- on which MRC partnered with Tribune Broadcasting, owner of key CW affiliates -- has barely registered in the ratings. In their most recent airing, dramas "Valentine, Inc." and "Easy Money" and reality series "In Harm's Way" drew a little more than a half-million viewers each and a 0.2 rating/1 share among adults 18-49.

A move from the creative to the ad-selling side would be understandable for Samples, who was considered a surprising choice to lead MRC co-heads Modi Wiczyk and Asif Satchu's foray into primetime TV as his previous TV executive experience was in syndication through his company Rysher Entertainment. However, his job in that area was made extremely difficult by the financial crisis, which has slashed ad spending.

Setting Samples' departure day for Halloween seems only fitting as MRC's TV division under him often invoked the ghost of Artists Television Group, Michael Ovitz's ambitious indie startup that crashed after two years of operation, a victim of backing too many expensive series right off the bat without the support of an off-network revenue stream.

MRC's TV model, which involved an aggressive launch of a half-dozen scripted series in its first year, has also drawn criticism for incurring too much front-end deficit financing.

MRC has been able to offset some of its costs by selling its shows internationally though a deal with ShineReveille International. It also has kept expenses low by employing a slim development team that includes Samples' No. 2 Dawn Parouse, who joined this summer, and by purchasing already developed projects. But also gives away significant ownership in its shows to the creators and the networks that buy the series.

It is not clear if MRC, which is yet to name a replacement for Samples, will continue to be so aggressive in television, tapping into the $350 million of financing from JPMorgan Chase and Comerica that it secured last month.

In addition to the CW series, MRC produces the animated comedy "The Life and Times of Tim" on HBO and the sitcom "Rita Rocks" for Lifetime.

The deal for "Rita" at Lifetime was made by the network's former entertainment president Susanne Daniels, who has been working with MRC as a consultant after leaving in June.

Next for the company is the midseason premiere of Mike Judge's animated comedy "The Goode Family" on ABC. It also has a "Studio 54"-themed drama in the works at Showtime.
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