Warner Bros. Intl. Television Distribution is teaming with veteran animation producer Fred Wolf to co-produce 26 episodes of a half-hour cartoon series “The Fantastic Voyage of Sinbad the Sailor” – the first time the Time Warner Inc. unit has ventured into the international co-production waters.

The company’s co-production efforts are being spearheaded by Catherine Malatesta. The VP of international TV sales was hired away from Westinghouse Intl. six months ago, partly because of her experience in the international co-production arena.

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Traditionally in the international TV biz, indie production/distribberies, rather than the Hollywood majors, have taken the lead in fostering foreign co-production relationships: They had to, not having the kind of financial muscle to undertake projects alone, or the massive programming rights to sell abroad. Nowadays even the Hollywood majors have begun to share risks with foreign partners and localize their product for foreign markets.

The “Sinbad” project marks WBITD’s first step in an effort to establish strategic alliances for co-production and distribution of programming abroad.

“With the issue of local content quotas already being practiced or creeping up around the world, we (WBITD) realized that we need to be active in forming foreign alliances,” says Malatesta. “Animation is a natural for getting started in this area, but we’re having a lot of different conversations across the gamut of programming genres.”

“Sinbad” will be produced in Dublin at Wolfs own animation studio and hence qualify as a locally produced European series. Wolf is a financial partner in the project, which is skedded for a fall 1996 debut; German and British co-financiers are also expected to come on board.

Wolf, whose credits include the original “Casper the Friendly Ghost” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” cartoons, will bring his own brand of quirkiness to the classic Sinbad adventure tale, according to Malatesta. No domestic outlet has yet been announced for the series, though Time Warner’s new netlet, the WB, is thought to be a likely candidate; WBITD will retain most foreign rights.