Hat Trick deal heats Brit indie sector

Prod'n co. has 15 new shows on the slate this year

This article was updated at 11:20 a.m. PT on July 17, 2003.

LONDON — Hat Trick Prods., makers of “Whose Line Is It Anyway” and “Have I Got News for You,” has sold a 45% stake to U.K. venture capitalist firm Kleinwort Capital for £23 million ($37 million).

Deal signals that Blighty’s production sector is once again capable of attracting substantial private equity investment. New regulatory changes in U.K. media will mean that indies will be able to have more control over their program rights, which could lead to significant growth opportunities.

Founded in 1986, Hat Trick is a profitable entertainment producer and boasts one of the highest margins in the indie sector at 28%. It is also one of the more prolific producers, with 15 new shows on the production slate this year.

Co-founding managing directors Denise O’Donoghue and Jimmy Mulville aim to grow the business with a view to selling the company in three to five years.

‘Just to be in the party’

“Kleinwort Capital is willing to pay this kind of money just to be in the party in five years’ time, when we sell to an American player or a bigger player in the U.K.,” said Mulville. “The investment will undoubtedly make us bolder as business people.”

Pair aim to set up joint ventures with like-minded entertainment producers similar to the deal struck in 2000 with David Young’s format company 12 Yard Prods. Company recently set up another joint venture with three writers and producers whose credits include “The Kumars at No. 42” and “The Office” to form comedy outfit Gasp Prods.

“The strategy is to buy and build. There are criteria that have to be met, not least of which is does it fit with the brand,” said O’Donoghue. “We may well set up companies adjacent to production, but not necessarily production.”

May lure b’cast exex

Company could also lure more execs from the broadcast sector. In 2001, Mark Redhead joined from producer and ITV shareholder Granada to manage drama and Cheryl Taylor joined from commercial web Channel 4 to run its comedy division.

The appointments have resulted in a number of new commissions. August sees the first transmission on BBC1 of “Trevor’s World of Sport,” a new half-hour comedy written and directed by Andy Hamilton and starring Neil Pearson.

Company is also in pre-production on its first slate of drama productions. These include “In Denial of Murder,” a two-part series for the BBC based on Stephen Downing’s miscarriage of justice; “Bodies,” a six-part series for the BBC about a whistle-blowing doctor in the National Health Service written by Jed Mercurio and based on his book of the same name; and “Worst Week of My Life,” a seven-part half-hour comedy series, also for the Beeb, which starts shooting at the end of the summer.

In the U.S., Hat Trick is co-producing “The Ortegas,” based on their hit show “The Kumars at No. 42,” for the Fox Network. Series is scheduled to air in the fall Sundays at 8:30 p.m. Company is also working with Pariah TV on a pilot script of its comedy series “Father Ted” and is in talks with U.S. talkshow host Conan O’Brien to co-produce political comedy show “Have I Got News for You.”

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