Brit b'caster inks rights to Christie tales

LONDON — Blighty commercial broadcaster ITV has inked what it calls a “landmark deal,” giving it exclusive TV rights to author Agatha Christie’s canon of more than 100 titles.

The web’s main producer, Granada, intends to make up to 24 of the classic whodunits via subsidiary LWT and is seeking co-production coin from global partners.

“It makes ITV the home of Agatha Christie, and that’s good for ITV,” said Granada’s newly appointed director of drama, John Whiston.

He said LWT landed the rights, owned by Agatha Christie Ltd., part of rights company Chorion, after a bidding war with pubcaster the BBC, which had adapted Christie’s Miss Marple novels.

Whiston claimed that the BBC was prepared to pay more for the rights, adding: “Frankly, I don’t know the exact sum we paid, but Chorion have gone with us for two reasons: ITV is more committed to the project (than the BBC), and ITV is the place where you get bigger audiences. There is also a ready market for it internationally.”

LWT has adapted Christie’s Hercule Poirot stories for more than a decade. These have been big sellers for Granada Intl., with 50 titles sold to 80 channels overseas. The financially beleaguered company hopes that the new films will build on this success.

Whiston said the first could air next fall, but no one has been cast to play Miss Marple. “It’s a great role, and there’s no dearth of old, posh British actresses suitable for the part,” he added.

David Suchet, who has played Poirot in the previous episodes, will star in three new Poirot films, including “Death on the Nile.”

ITV controller of drama Nick Elliott also has commissioned an updated version of Christie’s “Sparkling Cyanide” to be produced by Company Pictures and Agatha Christie Ltd.

No more kidding

Meanwhile Chorion, which owns the rights to Enid Blyton’s characters including “Noddy” and the “Famous Five,” has put its kids business on the block as a defensive move, following a takeover bid by distributor Entertainment Rights.

Chorion was left vulnerable after it split from its nightclub business Urbium, which resulted in a 70% drop in its share price to 4p ($0.06).

The company is worth $32.8 million, but Chorion hopes to raise more than $46.7 million in an all-cash sale. Spokesman for Chorion would not disclose details of the offer from London-based Entertainment Rights.

Blyton’s most famous character “Noddy” was launched as a CGI series and has been licensed to territories including Five in the U.K. and PBS in the States. “Noddy” went on air Sept. 2 on Five and has been achieving a share of 6%-9% at 7:30-8 a.m. Sunday through Friday.

Last week “Noddy” was released on video in the U.K. and sold 23,000 units in its first week, outstripping HIT Entertainment’s “Bob the Builder” video, which racked up 19,000 units, according to Chorion.

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