CEL Communications Inc., the producer/distributor of documentaries, has signed Phil Howort to the new post of president, international.

Skip Waldman, chairman of CEL, said one of Howort’s main tasks will be to extend the company’s commercial TV reach beyond selling informational programming to the A&E cable network, the outlet for CEL’s two most recent series, the 12-hour “Class of the 20th Century” and the ongoing “Biography” hours hosted by Peter Graves.

“The natural progression for CEL is to go from documentaries to reality programming,” said Howort, who’s the former president of LBS Telecommunications. CEL’s development is heading in that direction.

Howort said his first order of business will be to attend next month’s MIP convention in Cannes and “do some co-production and packaging of series with international partners.”

CEL, a public company, pocketed $ 250,000 in net income on gross revenues of $ 3.3 million last year. Waldman said CEL is debt-free and has a net worth of $ 6 million. The J.P. Morgan company owns 20% of the company’s stock, and other institutional shareholders include the Bank of New York and Renaissance Capital.

One of CEL’s biggest assets, Howort said, is its ownership of more than 9 million feet of archival footage covering news events going back to the year 1893.

Waldman said CEL also packages 83 hours of its newsreel film on 42 laserdiscs as “a primary research tool for schools, universities and libraries” under the umbrella title “the Video Encyclopedia of the 20th Century.”

The company’s most lucrative ongoing deal, Waldman said, is the “Biography” series, which A&E has commissioned through the 1995-96 season.

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