Hallmark deal for the Halmis

Duo buys back company for $700 mil

Miniseries maestros Robert Halmi Jr. and Robert Halmi Sr., with the backing of private investment firm Kelso, closed a deal Wednesday to acquire all the ownership interests in Hallmark Entertainment, a wholly owned subsid of Hallmark Cards.

Hallmark Cards originally purchased RHI Entertainment from the father and son duo for $360 million in 1994; current deal is worth some $700 million.

A quarter of the equity in the newly hatched RHI will belong to management, meaning mostly the Halmi family, and the rest to their financial partners.

Kelso is a passive investor and won’t have a management role, Halmi Jr. said.

“We will now be able to pursue a growth strategy which Hallmark Cards was not willing to pursue. We will expand both the type of product we produce and how we distribute that product. VOD and other new-media options are very exciting opportunities for us, as well as the expanding international cable universe,” Halmi Jr., who is prexy-CEO of the new company, told Daily Variety.

He added that Hallmark Cards had been “a tremendous and supportive partner” for 11 years.

Since Hallmark Entertainment’s inception, and under the guidance of the Halmis, some 4,000 hours of TV programming, mostly minis and TV movies, were produced and distributed.

The Halmis have not just been busy reacquiring control of their company.

“We are in pre-production on three more miniseries and 12 movies for the Hallmark Channel, to be delivered in the first half of ’06. We also just finished ‘The Ten Commandments’ for ABC, which will air in the spring. And ‘Category 7,’ which we produced with von Zernick/Sertner for CBS,” he pointed out.

The Hallmark Cards-Halmi deal does not directly affect the impending disposal of the Hallmark Channel in the U.S. That family-oriented cabler is currently being shopped around by owner Crown Media; no deal has been struck so far.

“We will continue to supply the Hallmark Channel with movies and mini as well as other networks, both cable and broadcast,” Halmi Jr. explained. He listed a number of completed projects, including “The Curse of King Tut,” with Casper Van Dien and Gabrielle Anwar, and “Blackbeard,” with Richard Chamberlain, which are destined for the cabler in the next few months.

In the deal with Hallmark Cards, Kelso & Co., which has been in business for 35 years, and the Halmis were advised by Rothschild. JPMorgan led the financing for the transaction.

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