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Playing for laffs

Sillerman buys artists management firm

Former radio and concert magnate Robert F.X. Sillerman has bought artist management firm Morra, Brezner, Steinberg & Tenenbaum in a $10 million deal to create a comedy wing for his growing entertainment portfolio.

The cash-and-stock deal brings the company that manages Billy Crystal, Robin Williams and Woody Allen into Sillerman’s burgeoning entertainment portfolio, which includes Elvis Presley Enterprises and 19 Entertainment. Latter owns the “American Idol” TV show format and manages soccer star David Beckham.

It appears 19, run by Simon Fuller, may have another hit on its hands with Fox skein “So You Think You Can Dance.”

Sillerman, who sold concert behemoth SFX Entertainment to Clear Channel for $4.4 billion in 2000, appears to be assembling an entertainment company he hopes will tap profits for stars beyond traditional film and TV sources. Of particular interest to Sillerman is the creation of new forms of TV, like “Idol,” which rakes in $1 billion in worldwide revs annually.

“It is our belief that the main drivers in pop culture today are music, comedy and sports,” Sillerman said. “It’s pretty obvious from MBST’s resume that they have the ability to identify the strongest voices in comedy.”

The acquisition puts to rest at least some of the speculation about Sillerman’s intentions. He was rumored at one time to be a suitor for ICM but told Daily Variety he’s still looking to buy a sports management firm like Octagon or IMG on which to build out his growing representation business.

For years, Hollywood’s artist management firms viewed Wall Street as a potential suitor for easy cash. But such investors usually balked when they realized the truth in Lew Wasserman’s old adage: “The problem with owning a talent business,” Wasserman was fond of saying, “is that your assets put on their hats at night and go home.”

However, as part of the deal, Sillerman’s CKX, a billion-dollar entertainment group, entered into long-term employment contracts with MBST principals Larry Brezner, David Steinberg and Steve Tenenbaum, who will continue to manage the company day-to-day.

MBST, which has produced client films like “Good Morning Vietnam” and “Throw Momma From the Train,” will instantly get access to capital from CKX, allowing it to produce projects alone where it once had to seek partners. MBST is currently producing “The Greatest Game Ever Played” for Disney.

Shares in CKX closed up 3¢ Wednesday to $13.99 on Nasdaq.

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