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1st Call makes TV move

U's equipment company eyes TV prod'n

Under a new multiyear deal with Universal, 1st Call Equipment will be the exclusive provider of heavy equipment for the studio and all productions there.

Deal is part of an unlikely move by 1st Call into TV programming development — a move already well under way.

“As we build the company on the equipment side, then the second step is the development of 1st Call Entertainment,” said newly hired exec VP Erni Di Massa Jr., a Daytime Emmy-winning producer (“The Regis Philbin Show”) and a former King World executive.

Since early 2008, 1st Call has been owned by two private equity firms, Falcon Investment Advisors and Aperion Management. Falcon’s prior investments include Legendary Pictures and Digital Domain.

Under the new management, 1st Call is using the revenue from its studio equipment business to finance its programming development efforts.

“There’s a taste to be in entertainment, but in a safe way,” said Di Massa.

While he will help build the company’s studio relationships and equipment business, he’s already well into developing daytime TV projects, which 1st Call may choose to produce, distribute and even tie in with a retail or consumer-products company.

He reports directly to CEO Michael Catalonello and prexy David Meirick.

The company’s development efforts focus on daytime, Di Massa’s strength.

“Daytime television through the years has made more than latenight and primetime combined,” he said.

Di Massa said 1st Call is probably a year away from active production on its first program, but “because one has a bricks-and-mortar aspect, it may only be six to nine months away.”

Universal is not part of 1st Call’s development efforts, but Di Massa said, “We have something I call the Unknown Talent Project, which will use the lot at Universal,” and he said when it’s time to seek studio partners, Universal “is certainly a door we’ll knock on.”

Company used to be part of a heavy equipment firm, NES. In early 2008, the new owners acquired parts of NES’ business and renamed them Roadsafe Holdings.

Now 1st Call operates independently under Roadsafe, and it is dedicated to the entertainment industry.

It rents light towers, booms, generators, compressors and other heavy equipment; 1st Call is already the exclusive provider for Culver Studios, Raleigh Studios, Albuquerque Studios and others.

Its deals with Albuquerque and Universal put equipment yards on those lots.

“It’s critical to the production to get (equipment) in a timely fashion,” said Dave Beanes, senior VP of production services for Universal Studios, explaining how the deal benefits work on the lot. “It’s a matter of time is money.”

Di Massa will also look to expand 1st Call’s equipment business to Chicago, the East Coast and outside the U.S., which would provide even more capital for its development slate.

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