Rysher in review

Indie hires banker to advise on next move

Rysher Entertainment has retained investment banking firm Allen & Co. to explore “strategic alternatives” for the 6-year-old film and TV company, including a possible sale or merger.

Sources say execs at Rysher’s parent company, Atlanta-based cable TV and newspaper giant Cox Enterprises, are considering a range of options for the indie film and TV production outfit. Sources stressed that no transaction is imminent.

Cox officials declined to comment Monday, but Rysher president and CEO Tim Helfet confirmed in a statement that an internal review is under way: “We have engaged Allen & Co. to review our operations and to assist us in considering different strategic alternatives.”

Sources said Rysher’s biggest problem is its lack of international distribution clout, leading to speculation that the company will seek a merger or alliance with a deep-pocketed foreign media outfit. Rysher officially exited the film business in July to focus on TV after racking up heavy losses on a string of B.O. duds.

By returning to its TV roots, Rysher now lacks the volume and diversity of product to secure top dollar overseas for its TV productions, as well as the wherewithal to follow through on long-term foreign deals involving its film titles.

Rysher’s active TV slate includes the CBS dramas “Nash Bridges” and “Dellaventura,” and the new HBO prison drama “Oz.” Rysher also has several network commitments through its development pact with “Oz” producers Barry Levinson and Tom Fontana. In syndication, Rysher this fall launched the Jerry Bruckheimer action skein “Soldier of Fortune.”

Rysher was founded in 1991 by Keith Samples, a former Warner Bros. syndication sales exec who hit big with Rysher early on by selling off-network rights to the NBC teen comedy “Saved by the Bell.” Cox purchased Rysher in 1993 for just under $15 million, a pricetag that included the assumption of $9 million in debt. Samples left the company in May to concentrate on his movie career.

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