FremantleMedia has landed a big catch in the nonscripted TV world.
The U.K.-based-FremantleMedia has laid out an estimated $50 million for a 75% stake in Original Prods., home of male-magnet cable hits such as “Deadliest Catch,” “Ice Road Truckers” and “Ax Men.”
Deal calls for Original Prods. chief Thom Beers to continue as CEO of the shingle he founded in 1999. Beers, who owns the remaining 25% of Original, is known as a prolific creator and producer of reality-based shows focused on guy’s-guy occupations and pursuits such as deep-sea fishing, hazardous long-haul truck driving and logging.
Original Prods. is also in the midst of a deal with BermanBraun to produce four nonscripted series for NBC. The first of those skeins, “America’s Toughest Jobs,” bowed last fall. Original just inked separate deals with the Discovery and History channels that calls for the company to deliver a total of 101 hours of programming for the two outlets this year, including several new series.
Original has, in recent years, produced more than 200 hours of programming per year, most of it in the male-targeted genre that has become the company’s trademark worldwide.
“We do shows about high-risk, high-reward work. That resonates with a lot of people,” Beers said.
Fremantle had already been in business with Original as a distributor of some of its formats overseas. “Deadliest Catch” and “Ice Road Truckers” have been very successful in the U.K. market, which spurred Fremantle’s interest in expanding its business relationship with Beers.
“The kinds of programs that Thom makes all have enormous international potential,” FremantleMedia CEO Tony Cohen said. “His shows are already very, very popular in a lot of countries, and they fit very well with the kind of programming that Fremantle makes.”
Christian Schneider-Sickert, Fremantle’s director of operations and strategy, said the investment would allow Beers “to take his programming even further internationally than he already has” and would help Original focus on the international marketplace as it develops shows.
Beers, for his part, was impressed with how much coin Fremantle generated from the international sales of Original productions including “America’s Toughest Jobs,” “Black Gold,” “Verminators” and “1000 Ways to Die.”
Fremantle execs declined comment on the specifics of the deal. But it’s understood that the pact was structured as an investment in Original, with Beers continuing at the helm and Philip Segal continuing as prexy. The rights to Original productions are widely dispersed, so the deal is not believed to give Fremantle outright control of Original’s library product.
As such, Fremantle is making a big bet on Beers’ ability to continue generating fresh series ideas. But it’s also investing in a profitable and growing business.
Original turns a profit on its for-hire productions — shows that the company produces for cablers without retaining any ownership interest — and it has been aggressive in capitalizing on the shows in which the company does have a stake. For example, Discovery is skedded to air later this year Original’s two-hour scripted telepic “The Deadliest Sea,” derived from “Deadliest Catch.”
Beers said the Fremantle investment will help him expand further into the scripted arena.
“We’re still going to work with our (network) partners in the same way we have, which means that different shows have different rights arrangements,” Beers said. “That won’t change at all. Fremantle isn’t going to mess with a formula that works.”
Beers runs Original out of three large production facilities that he owns in Burbank. He’s known for juggling as many as a dozen shows at the same time and for his speed in turning around episodes.
Original made its name as the producer of Discovery Channel mainstay “Monster Garage,” which revolves around souped-up cars and motorcycles.