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U ponders TV biz return

Studio may pick up B-G shows

Universal is poised to re-establish a presence in the domestic TV biz as it wraps up the drawn-out negotiations regarding the remaining assets of Polygram Filmed Entertainment and Brillstein-Grey Entertainment.

Nothing is set in stone yet, but the signs point to U retaining PFE’s small TV division if the studio concludes the $200 million deal to sell Polygram’s specialty pic distribs Gramercy Pictures and October Films to Barry Diller’s USA Networks Inc.

At the same time, U could wind up with a majority stake or even full ownership of some of Brillstein-Grey’s existing shows once the two sides hammer out a settlement deal finalizing the split between the production company and its one-time studio partner. U shelled out $75 million-$100 million for a 50% stake in Brillstein-Grey in 1996, but B-G is now said to be setting up a new production deal at Sony’s Columbia TriStar TV.

One source close to the situation stressed that U brass are making case-by-case strategic decisions aimed at maximizing U’s return on the Polygram and B-G assets, and that there is no plan to rebuild a full-blown domestic TV division.

U stunned showbizzers in October 1997 by selling the bulk of its domestic TV operation to Barry Diller’s USA Networks in a complex, $4 billion deal that left U with a 45% stake in USA and an option to repurchase the assets in the future.

Meanwhile, U’s purchase of Polygram last year netted the fledgling Polygram TV unit, whose output to date includes three syndie weeklies and the upcoming fall strip “Blind Date.” The settlement with Brillstein-Grey would yield more high-profile primetime fare, although insiders say there’s been no final decisions on who gets what. B-G’s active slate includes the buzzworthy new HBO drama “The Sopranos,” the NBC sitcoms “Just Shoot Me” and “NewsRadio” and ABC’s “Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher.”

(Benedict Carver and Jenny Hontz contributed to this report.)

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