Portman, Zenith unite

Portman Entertainment and Zenith, two of Britain’s leading producers of TV drama and feature films, are about to become one.

Portman has reached agreement with Zenith’s current owners, Carlton Communications and Paramount, to acquire the London-based drama arm Zenith Prods. and its Newcastle-based sister outfit Zenith North, sources said. An announcement is expected in the next few days.

Zenith’s successful gameshow company Action Time is not part of the deal, leaving the shareholders and Action Time chief Stephen Leahy still looking for a buyer.

Portman reportedly plans to keep Zenith’s separate identity as a creative unit under production chief Scott Meek, but is expected to reorganize its commercial management.

The deal was completed after Carlton failed to agree on a price with Dutch soap and gameshow producer JE Entertainment, long the leading candidate to snap up Zenith.

Portman is majority-owned by its management — chief exec Victor Glynn and directors John Hall and John Sievers — with a substantial minority stake held by TEAM, a venture capital outfit.

Power in strength

Portman and Zenith Prods. are very similar businesses, and by pooling their creative resources they will create a powerful British force in the international market.

Portman increasingly specializes in big-budget telefilms with some theatrical potential, such as the recent “Crimebroker” starring Jacqueline Bisset, which was released in Japanese cinemas.

Big features planned

It is moving into full-scale feature production, with Gary Oldman’s directorial debut “Lords of the Urban Jungle” due to start shooting later this year.

Zenith this year is producing another Hartley project, “Amateur,” along with another American movie, “Valley of Lights,” directed by Meiert Avis. It has just completed shooting a British feature comedy, “Deadly Advice,” starring Jonathan Price, Jane Horrocks and Brenda Fricker.

On the TV side, Zenith is best known for the long-running but now defunct detective series “Inspector Morse,” one of the ITV web’s biggest hits of the 1980s.

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