Jacksons again in Michael’s shadow

LONDON — Hat Trick Prods., makers of “Whose Line Is It Anyway” and “Have I Got News for You,” has sold a 45% stake to U.K. venture capitalist firm Kleinwort Capital for £23 million ($37 million).

Deal signals that Blighty’s production sector is once again capable of attracting substantial private equity investment. New regulatory changes in U.K. media will mean that indies will be able to have more control over their program rights, which could lead to significant growth opportunities.

Founded in 1986, Hat Trick is a profitable entertainment producer and boasts one of the highest margins in the indie sector at 28%. It is also one of the more prolific producers, with 15 new shows on the production slate this year.

Co-founding managing directors Denise O’Donoghue and Jimmy Mulville aim to grow the business with the view to selling the company in three to five years.

‘Just to be in the party’

“Kleinwort Capital is willing to pay this kind of money just to be in the party in five years’ time, when we sell to an American player or a bigger player in the U.K.,” said Mulville. “The investment will undoubtedly make us bolder as business people.”

rtment of male and female Jacko impersonators (including one particularly scary 5-year-old Caucasian boy).

Though the evening came off smoothly, the road there was bumpy. In the wake of a teen boy’s molestation allegations against Michael, and reports of subsequent family in-fighting, the event was postponed twice, ticket sales were disappointing and ads were sold at reduced rates for tonight’s NBC special.

Though there were some empty seats, the event was declared a sellout. Tix were pegged from $ 50 to $ 1,000, but prices were reduced last week, with partial refunds to ticket holders, and upgrades were being offered until minutes before the show’s start.

“Honors” beneficiaries include the Permanent Charities Committee of the Entertainment Industries Earthquake Relief Fund, Friends of Conservation, and the Library of Congress American Popular Music Program. Jackson Communications chairman/CEO Robert Petrallia said the amount won’t be known for some time, and depends on sales of the spec overseas, where it’s been firmed for approximately 30 countries.

Michael Jackson made his first appearance about two hours into the 2 1/2-hour event, receiving a prolonged ovation, by which he seemed genuinely pleased, if not entirely surprised.

“The King of Pop” so dominated the rest of the evening that his presentation of awards to Motown Records founder Berry Gordy and actress Taylor, as well as their acceptance speeches, were frequently drowned out with cries of “We love you, Michael” and “Michael, sing!”

Taylor — looking beautiful, but moving gingerly due to osteo-arthritis of the hip — addressed Jackson’s troubles, which had only been alluded to a few times in the evening. “Enough of tabloid media!” cried Taylor (which drew whoops of approval from the crowd). “Enough of tabloid television!” (More whoops.)

Taylor then acknowledged that everyone wanted to hear Jackson sing, “but he doesn’t have any music pre

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