Co. to reclaim comedy crown

NEW YORK — ZelnickMedia, the Gotham-based firm run by Strauss Zelnick, former CEO of BMG Entertainment and prexy-chief operating officer of 20th Century Fox, has taken a minority stake in National Lampoon.

Zelnick will play an active role in helping National Lampoon restructure and capitalize on its brand, and with its plans to more fully delve into film, television, magazine publishing, radio and the recorded audio biz.

Already, NL has ramped up its development slate, reconnecting with some of the former mag’s founding and most well-known comedy writers including Annie Beats, Matty Simmons and Sam Gross. The company also has been in touch with creative force John Hughes.

NL alum Chris Miller, who wrote the piece on which “Animal House” was based, is also in talks to develop other properties. The pic will mark its 25th anniversary next year.

NL recently bought the campus-driven TV network Burly Bear from owners including Constellation Ventures and Lorne Michaels, renaming it the National Lampoon Network. The net features comedy and other youth-oriented content and reaches more than 3.5 million students at 416 colleges and universities.

Company also actively is pursuing re-establishing a publishing division. The mag, begun in 1970 by Harvard Lampoon alums, shuttered in 1998. In addition, there are preliminary plans for a National Lampoon Radio Network, direct-response TV and an audio division.

” ‘Lampoon’ sells the product,” Zelnick told Daily Variety. “That’s very hard to find. If you see ‘National Lampoon’s Van Wilder,’ that means something.”

Added Zelnick, “We are impressed by both the creative and financial potential of the properties and licenses that national Lampoon controls. We are looking forward to working with National Lampoon to help re-energize their franchise.”

NL majority stake holder and chief operating officer Dan Laikin said, “National Lampoon has defined comedy for generations through magazines, books, live theater and with such hit movies as ‘National Lampoon’s Animal House,’ the National Lampoon ‘Vacation’ series and most recently ‘National Lampoon’s Van Wilder.’ “

Laikin said his development team will be directly involved in future entertainment projects; the company had not been active on such productions as the recent “Van Wilder” pic, produced by Tapestry and released by Artisan.

ZelnickMedia has its hands in recorded music, publishing, CD manufacturing, online games and media-related software.

Company is a partnership of media execs led by Zelnick and including Scott Siegler, the former prexy of TriStar and Warner Bros. TV; Jim Friedlich, most recently senior publishing exec with the Wall Street Journal; Ben Feder, who served as an exec veep at News Corp.; and Karl Slatoff, most recently veep of new media at BMG.

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