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20th, ITV Join in Production Venture

Jun 18, 2008  •  Post A Comment

Rupert Murdoch’s American TV studio is expanding its footprint in the British broadcasting business, signing a potentially landmark production partnership with U.K. powerhouse ITV.
The centerpiece of the multi-pronged deal between Mr. Murdoch’s 20th Century Fox Television and ITV Productions is the creation of a joint development fund to be funded and overseen by both companies. The monies will be used to pay writers on both sides of the pond to create and develop original series programming that could air in the U.S., the U.K. or both countries.
20th Century Fox TV Chairmen Dana Walden and Gary Newman, along with ITV Managing Director for Global Content Lee Bartlett, announced the agreement Wednesday.
While the deal allows for several kinds of productions, Mr. Bartlett said an ideal scenario would be the creation of a series that shoots in the U.K. with a hybrid cast of British and American actors and premieres simultaneously in both the U.S. and the U.K.
“The idea is to develop series that hopefully can work in both the U.K. and the U.S.,” he said.
Ms. Walden said the deal with ITV is “in keeping with the evolution of this studio.”
“We’ve shifted from being just in the network production business to the global content creation business,” she said. “This is the next step in being involved overseas in a way that’s more than just, ‘Here’s a show we produce, are you interested in licensing it for your market?’”
In addition to jointly developing new content, the non-exclusive deal will encourage 20th and ITV to mine each other’s libraries in search of formats that can be produced in their home markets.
First up: A British take on 20th’s sitcom “Dharma & Greg,” which ran on ABC from 1997 until 2002. ITV has also snapped up the rights to “Southern Comfort,” a 2006 mob drama produced by 20th but passed on by Fox Broadcasting.
Mr. Bartlett said ITV will begin looking for writers to oversee the adaptations of both series, and will probably hire a casting director for “Dharma” as well. Neither project has been pitched to U.K. TV networks yet.
As for projects that emerge from the joint development fund, 20th will control U.S. rights to any series that result while ITV will handle distribution in the U.K. The companies will split up distribution to other countries based on their respective strengths in those markets.
ITV’s Kate Bartlett and Saurabh Kakkar will oversee the development fund in the U.K., while 20th’s Ann Johnson and Steve Sicherman will play a similar role in the States.
In addition to tapping into each other’s relationships with writers, ITV and 20th plan to use each other’s production facilities. That could prove to be particularly advantageous to 20th, given what Mr. Bartlett cited as lower production costs in the U.K.
“We can produce things for less,” Mr. Bartlett said.
But while co-productions promise to reduce the risks involved in launching series, “I don’t see this as being a profit generator up front,” Ms. Walden said. “This is far more about a creative collaboration and looking to identify more efficient ways to produce series.”
Ms. Walden said 20th has been mulling a partnership with a U.K. company for a while. She said ITV made sense because it shares “a similar brand and sensibilities” with 20th.
Mr. Bartlett and Ms. Walden aren’t strangers. Until April, Mr. Bartlett had headed business affairs at Fox Broadcasting, 20th’s sister network. He had previously worked at Fox’s cable networks division.
ITV already has a robust format business in the U.S. Its various divisions have a hand in CBS’s upcoming “11th Hour” and the Sony/20th-produced series “Sit Down, Shut Up.”

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