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SHAKE-UP AT DISNEY : Co-Pilots of the Next Studio Era : PROFILE: RICHARD FRANK : Taking Over the Hugely Profitable TV Division He Built

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Richard Frank, the new chairman of Disney Television & Telecommunications, has never received the public attention given Jeffrey Katzenberg, the outgoing chairman. But Frank is highly respected within the industry as having helped build an enormously profitable TV business for Disney.

Now, under the reorganization of Walt Disney Studios, Frank will have responsibility for an estimated 80% of the studio’s $4.5 billion in revenue. His duties encompass everything from TV to home video to Disney’s nascent telecommunications operations.

“The Walt Disney Studios as a concept no longer exists,” Frank said. “That was a concept that was good 10 years ago when we all came here, but the world has changed drastically. There’s a new world out there, which is the production and distribution of electronic software in all the different media coming to the fore.”

At Disney, Frank has become the studio’s resident guru on new-media technology. He was the principal organizer of this year’s “superhighway summit conference” at UCLA, which attracted an all-star cast of Hollywood players and Vice President Al Gore.

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Frank has long felt that the public does not appreciate the role TV has played in Hollywood’s bottom line. In a recent speech to Hollywood publicists, he called on them to overcome their inferiority complex and trumpet the medium’s achievements.

Disney TV, essentially dormant when Frank took the reins in 1985, now produces 32 hours of programming each week, from top-rated “Home Improvement” to “Bill Nye the Science Guy” on cable. He got Disney back into the television business the old-fashioned way: He spent lavishly. In the early 1990s, Disney had to build its stable of TV writers and producers from scratch and, along with Columbia Pictures, became known as the home of the multimillion-dollar deal.

Frank’s gambit, unlike Columbia’s, paid off: The syndication revenue alone from “Home Improvement"--more than $600 million--will cover the studio’s TV overhead for years.

The studio’s other hits--helped in no small measure by the production duo of Paul Witt and Tony Thomas-Harris--have included “Empty Nest” and “The Golden Girls.” Disney also became a force in syndication, whisking away “Siskel & Ebert” from public TV and introducing “Live With Regis & Kathie Lee” nationwide.

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A former general manager of KCOP-TV (Channel 13), Frank came up on the station side of the business, working in ad sales and marketing. In 1977, he moved to Paramount to head that studio’s syndication division and was joined there by his cousin Randy Reiss. Reiss later moved with Frank to Disney, where he now oversees KCAL-TV.


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