Inside Moves

Semel takes 'Netcaster stake

Former Warner Bros. co-chairman and CEO Terry Semel has invested $2 million in Digital Entertainment Network, which Webcasts a slate of original advertiser-supported episodic shows and offers other interactive programming to the online Gen Y crowd.

Semel joins NBC and Intel, among what’s expected to be a slew of other entertainment players, as new investors in the company. Semel will most likely take a position on the Santa Monica-based company’s board.

The backing is expected to give DEN industry credibility and access to financing.

DEN had planned to announce its latest round of financing last week, but has remained cautious, crossing each “T” and dotting each “I” before making its big splash this week.

Netcaster IFilm announced a $35 million investment last week from Sony, Kodak, Paul Allen’s Vulcan Ventures, Roy Disney’s Shamrock Capital Advisers and Liberty Digital. In December AtomFilms said it had received $20 million from Chase Capital Entertainment Partners, Chase Capital Partners, Arts Alliance and WaterView Partners’ Frank J. Biondi Jr., among others.

Whatever figure is announced should provide a major shot in the arm for DEN, which is trying to stay afloat and restructure its operation after burning through its first round of financing from Cassandra Chase Enter-tainment Partners, Chase Capital, Dell Computer, Microsoft and its senior management, among others.

The company is in the midst of joining its Internet counterparts with plans to go public on Wall Street sometime this year. DEN filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission in September in hopes of raising $75 million in a common stock offering.

— Marc Graser

BCE may buy Canuck network CTV

Control of Canada’s largest private television network may soon be in the hands of BCE, the Canuck parent of giant phone utility Bell Canada.

BCE needs to park a stash of cash expected from its spinoff of Nortel Networks, and it’s rumored to have just completed due diligence on CTV. A sale to BCE would delight CTV prexy Ivan Fecan, as BCE is likely to leave his management team intact. Canadian-born media mogul Conrad Black, who has apparently lost interest in picking up the network, would be far more likely to clean house.

Shares of CTV have been widely held since the Eaton department store scions bailed out while their retail empire was collapsing. CTV, whose market value is about $950 million, also owns specialty TV webs Comedy Network, Outdoor Life and, pending regulatory approval, the Sports Net-work and Discovery.

Acquisition of CTV would add another distribution system to Bell’s telephone lines and its satellite TV service, Bell ExpressVu. While CTV is a relatively small media asset on a global scale, prexy Jean Monty of BCE would like to make a deal, either through share purchase or a strategic alliance, as it would firmly establish BCE as the major Canadian media powerhouse.

— Don Townson

U drives ‘Turnpikes’ pic to off-ramp

Universal Pictures has taken the air out of basketball comedy “New Jersey Turnpikes,” pulling the Kelsey Grammer project off its schedule and putting the movie up for sale.

“Turnpikes,” produced by Universal and Mostow/Lieberman Prods., focused on a fictional team during the waning days of the American Bas-ketball Assn. in 1975. Four of the strongest teams from the upstart league –featuring red-white-and-blue balls, Julius “Dr. J” Erving and the three-point shot — merged with the National Basketball Assn. in 1976 after nine seasons while the others vanished.

The movie, directed by Bryan Buckley, was shot in 1998 in a mock-documentary format along the lines of “This Is Spinal Tap,” with Gram-mer’s character supplying narration as the general manager of the worst team in the league. Robert Conrad, Lee Majors, Jim Brown and Orlando Jones also star.

The studio first acquired the spec script in early 1996 and originally set up the project at John Singleton’s New Deal Prods.

Universal has also renamed another comedy — this one involving the kidnapping of a dog by a chauffeur played by Norm Macdonald — for the third time. During its development and production, the project has been known as “Ballbusted,” “Pittsburgh” and “Foolproof,” but it recently be-came “Screwed” and is on the studio’s fall schedule.

— Dave McNary

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