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Celedor making millions

Quiz creator fights rumors of downturn

LONDON — “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” and “Amelie” star Audrey Tautou are an unlikely pairing. But then the U.K.’s Celador has always been a tricky outfit to pin down.

The company began life as a post-production house, shifted into comedy production, hit the jackpot with globe-conquering quizzer “Millionaire” and is now in post-production on its first feature, Stephen Frears’ “Dirty Pretty Things,” starring the Oscar-nommed Tautou in her debut English-lingo role.

Despite this, it is fighting industry buzz that it has peaked.

Complete Communications, parent of Celador Prods., sales division Celador Intl. and newly established movie production arm Celador Films, recently posted a pre-tax profit of £19 million ($27 million) on sales of $77 million to September — both records for the company.

As a private entity, Complete does not have to report results. But negative press triggered by a downturn at events company Avesco, a 49% shareholder in Complete, forced its hand.

Paul Smith, co-owner/co-founder of Complete and managing director of Celador Prods., says the media assumed Avesco’s troubles were linked to “Millionaire.”

“We like to be humble and quiet and get on with our business,” Smith says. “But we think our reputation has suffered.”

Execs accept that “Millionaire,” which represented 80% of Complete’s global sales, is winding down.

Easy as ABC

However, Smith points out that the quizzer is returning to ABC Stateside for a new series in the fall.

A lucrative two-year, five-day-a-week syndication deal has been struck with more than 200 TV stations in the U.S., beginning this fall.

And in the U.K., “Millionaire” is still garnering respectable auds for ITV1. Ratings have dropped to 7 million a pop from a dizzying height of 19 million in 1999, but that still places the show in the top 10 behind the ever-popular soaps “EastEnders” (BBC1) and “Coronation Street” (ITV1).

“My view was that (ABC was) dangerously over-exploiting it,” says Smith, who hopes others will now look at the “many other strings to our bow.”

The $10 million “Dirty Pretty Things” was developed with BBC Films and secured Miramax’s backing — in exchange for worldwide rights — during its first week of lensing.

The feature, penned by Steve Knight who co-created “Millionaire,” is a gritty drama set in London’s illegal-immigrant underclass. Smith says he is poised to sign off on a second deal with the BBC on another script from Knight, the company’s key inhouse creative.

Big leap

Whether Complete fares as well on the bigscreen as it has on the small remains to be seen. In the meantime, TV remains its bread and butter.

The sitcom “All About Me,” again from Knight and starring comedian Jasper Carrott is drawing decent numbers for BBC1. The show is innovative in that one of its stars is a boy with cerebral palsy.

And there are re-commissions for other programs, including the gameshows “Winning Lines” (BBC1) and “The People Versus” (ITV).

But the future could take a number of turns.

Smith, 55, has begun delegating administrative duties to concentrate on creative operations. His background is as a producer of comedy, often with Carrott, and light entertainment. That includes a 1979-81 stint in the U.S., where he produced TV specials for Debbie Reynolds, Jon Davidson and Ben Vereen, and NBC’s “TV’s Censored Bloopers,” based on the British format he produced, “It’ll Be Alright on the Night.”

Smith says he wants time to enjoy Complete’s success. He does not rule out selling the company if the “right proposal” comes along, but says any deal would not just be about money.

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