Prod'n banner BGTV shifts to Sony from U

Brad Grey has officially unfurled his new BGTV production banner at Columbia TriStar TV after finalizing the terms of Brillstein-Grey Entertainment’s separation from Universal, which bought half of BGE in 1996.

BGTV has been set up as a 50-50 joint venture with Sony’s TV arm. Financial details were not disclosed, but the 4-1/2-year deal calls for Col TriStar to cover the company’s overhead and provide a yearly development fund of around $15 million.

BGTV will operate as a stand-alone entity separate from Brillstein-Grey’s existing production and talent management operations.

Col TriStar already has long-standing ties to BGE, handling syndie sales of its TV series through a distribution deal inked back in 1991.

The BGTV pact with Col TriStar marks the third major TV production partnership that Grey has struck in the past five years — only to see the first two deals scuttled by bad timing and shifting corporate priorities.

Grey’s settlement with Universal leaves the studio with control and 50% ownership of three existing Brillstein-Grey skeins: NBC’s “Just Shoot Me” and “NewsRadio” and the WB’s “Steve Harvey Show,” although Grey will remain an exec producer and co-owner.

As for the rest of BGE’s active slate, sources say U has given up its interest in ABC’s latenight strip “Politically Incorrect With Bill Maher” but will retain a small piece of the hot HBO mobster drama “The Sopranos.”

Former U staffer Barbara Fisher has been recruited by the studio to handle creative affairs for the three shows, and U exec veepee Susan Workman will continue to oversee administrative matters.

After wrapping up the complex negotiations with U, Grey, Col TriStar TV Group prexy Jon Feltheimer and CTTG exec VP Andy Kaplan formally unveiled the long-rumored move to Col TriStar on Thursday.

“For us, Sony is an ideal partner,” said Grey, citing the Japanese conglom’s depth and breadth in the global marketplace. “With the kind of entertainment we want to create, we can only be helped by being involved with a company with a hand in all of these future business opportunities that are coming up like lightning these days,” Grey said.

BGTV’s partnership arrangement with Col TriStar is unique among Sony’s domestic TV production deals, Feltheimer confirmed.

“We’re making a significant investment in this startup company … as we look down the road to continuing to fill our product pipeline,” Feltheimer said. “With Brad and his team, we have an extra edge in terms of the talent. These guys are fantastic at finding and signing great talent.”

The Brillstein-Grey Enterprises management wing handles such heavy hitters as Nicolas Cage, Brad Pitt, Courtney Cox, Dennis Miller, Adam Sandler, Martin Short, Sylvester Stallone, Gary Sinise and David Spade.

In Grey’s view, Sony’s lack of direct corporate ties to a domestic broadcast web — a la Disney/ABC or News Corp./Fox — is a plus rather than hindrance.

“I’ve learned over the years the benefits of having the freedom to go to the network that has the most passion or the most need for what we’re doing,” Grey said.

Alphabet regret

Indeed, in 1994, Brillstein-Grey struck an alliance with ABC that gave the Alphabet web a 50% stake in BGE shows. But that partnership soured when the Walt Disney Co. bought ABC the following year.

In 1996, Universal shelled out a reported $75 million to $100 million for a 50% stake in the Brillstein-Grey Entertainment production arm. Barely 18 months later, U stunned the industry by selling the bulk of its domestic TV operations to Barry Diller’s USA Networks.

But U didn’t have the right to transfer its BGE stake to USA, so BGE essentially was left in a partnership with a studio that had no TV division. Grey later turned down an offer by U brass to form a new TV division and serve as its chief.

Under the terms of BGE’s original pact with U, the studio would have taken over distribution rights to BGE’s new TV product as of this year. Now, BGE will exist as a production label, but the staff of 25 will shift over to BGTV.

With the BGE/Universal divorce looming for more than six months, BGE’s TV development activity for the upcoming season was limited.

As part of the settlement, Universal is also retaining full ownership of the CBS comedy prospect “Work With Me,” to be done as a co-production with CBS Prods. Grey’s BGTV will hang on to the David Spade animated sitcom “Sammy,” which has a 13-seg commitment from NBC, and another NBC comedy pilot, “Baxter & Sons.”

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