Packer’s back with int’l TV prod’n firm

Australian media baron Kerry Packer is back in the international TV production business, with plans for a major joint venture based in Los Angeles.

Packer, owner of Australia’s Nine Network, has appointed British TV exec Jeremy Fox to spearhead the push into production, working out of Nine Network’s L.A. office.

The plan is to form a 50/50 company with a U.S. partner, to make long-form drama series for the worldwide market, focused particularly on the United States , Australia and the United Kingdom.

Negotiations for a joint venture already are at an advanced stage with an unidentified New York-based distribution outfit. The joint company will have enough production finance “to fund a couple of series,” according to sources–a figure in excess of $ 50 million.

Fox, who arrives in Los Angeles next week, will immediately take responsibility for selling Nine’s existing shows in the U.S., and will be involved in program acquisitions.

He also will have greater freedom to explore business opportunities for Packer and Nine Network in the U.S. Packer “wants to do something in television in the U.S.,” Nine Network sources say, although his Australian nationality means he cannot own an American television or radio station.

The blueprint for the production joint venture involves a particular concentration on high-budget action-adventure series of the sort that have become increasingly rare on U.S. network TV, largely because it has proved tough for producers to earn back the deficit finance from domestic syndication.

Fox’s theory, which Packer has agreed to back, is that series designed for worldwide appeal, rather than for one specific market, will have a good chance of making substantial profits.

The appointment of Fox coincides with Packer’s decision to name Bruce Gyngell , executive chairman of Britain’s TV-am, as the new chairman of Nine Network, starting in April.

Gyngell and Fox worked together for much of last year, exploring new business options for TV-am in the wake of the company’s defeat in the 1991 ITV license auction. However, they drew a blank, and TV-am now looks certain to be folded this year.

Since returning from Los Angeles three years ago, Fox headed the unsuccessful Three East bid for an ITV license, and labored in vain to forge a consortium to bid for Channel 5.

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