Oprah Winfrey, Howard Stern and Martin Short made the news this week

By Joe Flint
Updated April 16, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

Don’t look for them to hobnob around the office watercooler, but King of All Media Howard Stern and Queen of All Media Oprah Winfrey are now coworkers — thanks to CBS’ $2.5 billion merger with Winfrey’s distributor King World.

The deal gives CBS a powerful base in the syndication business. Besides The Oprah Winfrey Show and The Roseanne Show, King World distributes Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy!, the new Hollywood Squares, Inside Edition, and Martin Short’s upcoming yakker. CBS Corp. CEO Mel Karmazin likens the move to ”buying oceanfront property.”

And King World’s $900 million in cash certainly won’t hurt: CBS plans to use it to buy more TV and radio stations. But what’s in it for King World? The ability to use CBS-owned stations (which reach 32 percent of the U.S.) as launching pads for new shows — though chairman Roger King stresses that King World will continue to work with all syndicators. ”We want to become the Switzerland of the broadcast community,” he says. ”We’ll sell to everyone.” That’s fine with Karmazin, who jokes that he wants to be ”the Swiss banker who takes money from everybody.”

The biggest question marks for the future are how the rambunctious King brothers (Roger and Michael) will get along with the tightfisted Karmazin, and how long major player Winfrey will stay. Her contract runs to 2002, and Karmazin says he’s already been ”sucking up,” in an effort to persuade her to hang around. No wonder, since she earns more than $300 million for King World every year.

Perhaps the only downside to the deal is in its perpetuation of a troubling trend: the consolidation of the industry. While the number of channels and viewing options is growing, the power is fast becoming concentrated in the hands of just a few companies. ”The little guy won’t exist,” says TV consultant Bill Carroll of Katz Media, referring to the likes of indie producers Rysher Entertainment and even Carsey-Werner. ”Consolidation means fewer choices and fewer opportunities.” And lots more sucking up.