Sonar Entertainment to broaden scope of prod'n slate

Cannes–After bankruptcy and the departure of its founder, RHI Entertainment has rebranded as Sonar Entertainment and tapped Stewart Till as chief executive.

The move, announced Saturday at the MipTV market in Cannes, comes as Sonar tries to expand the scope of its production-distribution business beyond the made-fors that had been the forte of company founder Robert Halmi Sr.

Halmi exited Gotham-based RHI in February. His son, Robert Halmi Jr., ankled as CEO last July, when Till was tapped as co-interim CEO along with Mike Corrigan and David Salzman.

Rebranding as Sonar Entertainment represents a fresh start and a solid business strategy for growth and expansion,” said Sonar chairman Gabriel de Alba. “While we are committed to maintaining the same high level of quality that has always been an RHI trademark, we are also looking ahead to developing new concepts, content and formats, in different genres and with a variety of partners.”

“We managed to stabilize the company and we have been exceeding our sales numbers — that has helped regenerate additional cash,” said de Alba. “In the past we were working with an annual $40 million credit line and we’re happy to announce that we’ve secured an additional $50 million on top of our $40 million line to keep up with the volume of our productions that are ramping up so fast.”

The extra $50 million were raised from a group of investors led by Catalyst Group Inc..

Till is a veteran of the international film distribution world who was most recently chairman of Icon U.K. He ran Universal Intl. Pictures from 2002-2006, and he served a stint as chairman of the U.K. Film Council.

“I’ve spent more time in film than in television, and I see that a lot of values of film, which are great writers, great directors, are becoming more and more relevant in television,” said Till.

Sonar is co-developing with Eric Gardner’s Panacea Ent. “Hellraiser,” a TV series based on the cult British horror franchise. Gardner will exec produce along with Larry Kuppin, whose company New World Entertainment is behind the first two “Hellraiser” pics.

Among the other new programs Sonar is touting at the market is an action-drama series, “MPH,” penned by Steven De Souza, and an eight-hour “King Tut” miniseries to be developed and produced with Muse Entertainment. Also in the works is a two-hour backdoor pilot inspired by the graphic novel “Mirror Mirror” by Joshua Williamson.

“The gap between an O.K. show and a great show is getting bigger and bigger and our obsession going forward will be to find high quality shows that people really want,” Till told Variety. “If you look at our slate, you’ll see shows that have either a great brand name like ‘King Tut’ or ‘Hellraiser’ that arrive with a recognition, a build-in marketing platform and/or a great writer like ‘MPH’ with Steven E. De Souza.”

Till said Sonar Ent. could put up deficit financing for select projects.

Added Till, “We’ll be announcing more high profile shows in a month or two.”

RHI filed for a voluntary bankruptcy proceeding in late 2010 after racking up more than $600 million in debt.

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