Sanitsky exits ICM to lead global TV effort

Veteran ICM TV agent Bob Sanitsky is ankling the agency after six years to lead a huge expansion by Dutch media conglom Polygram into the domestic TV business.

Sanitsky, who is vice president and head of syndication and cable at International Creative Management, will now become president of the newly formed Polygram TV division. Best known for developing, packaging and selling Warner Bros. Domestic TV Distribution’s new hit “The Rosie O’Donnell Show,” Sanitsky becomes the second ICM department head to leave the agency this week.

Steve Rabineau, one of three co-heads of ICM’s motion picture department, is leaving to join Endeavor as a partner (Daily Variety, March 5). Sanitsky recently signed a new two-year contract with ICM, and he said the timing of the two departures is just a coincidence.

“They truly were gracious enough to allow me to leave and pursue this really unique opportunity,” said Sanitsky, who previously worked in development at Orion and Warner Bros. TV. “I am not burning any bridges at ICM. They’re my friends, and I’ll miss them greatly.”

Sanitsky leaves April 1 to direct Polygram’s push into the network, syndication, cable and international TV pro-duction arena. The $5.5 billion entertainment group has not been a significant player in U.S. TV, despite the pur-chase of ITC Entertainment Group for $156 million in early 1995.

ITC will now be folded into Polygram TV, and its president and CEO, Jules Haimovitz, will become a consultant, working mainly on the Sundance Film Channel cable net, which Polygram partially owns, and other ventures.

According to Michael Kuhn, president of Polygram Filmed Entertainment, the company has just approved a pro-posal “to invest serious money,” which industry sources estimate to be in the range of a couple hundred million dollars, in the new TV division. Kuhn would confirm no figures, but he said Sanitsky will be hiring at least 15 people on the production side to get the division moving.

“For the past year and a half we’ve gotten our movie operation going in the right direction, and it’s time to concen-trate on getting a real TV division up and going,” Kuhn said. “Our broad thrust is to have a big emphasis on stuff with value internationally.”

Harold Vogel, a Cowen & Co. analyst, said, “It makes a lot of sense for them to do this. They’re gearing up to be more of a full-service, one-stop entertainment house, and they need to start somehow.”

Right now, Polygram makes most of its TV money from selling rights to its movie library. ITC produces “The Big Easy” for USA Network, which is sold overseas, and the company is developing a CBS pilot based on the movie “Fargo” and a pilot for Fox called “Cali” with Rusty Cundieff. ITC also syndicates the first-year weekly “Beach Patrol,” which is underperforming and may not return for a second season.

Like all indies, Polygram will have an uphill battle on the domestic syndication front because it does not own sig-nificant distribution outlets, such as a TV station group. One analyst, who asked not to be identified, said, “It’s a tough business to start up. You put on a lot of overhead, and spend a lot of money developing scripts and shooting pilots, and you don’t have a lot of clout to get it on the air.”

Despite the potential perils, Kuhn and Sanitsky said they intend to build the division slowly and to take advantage of the properties Polygram already owns.

“There are so many quality assets to draw upon,” Sanitsky said. “There’s ‘Dead Man Walking,’ Propaganda Films, which has David Lynch’s work; (and) Jodie Foster’s company. My immediate goals are to look at all the assets of all the labels and to expand these brands internationally.”

New productions will include hour dramas for network, syndication and cable, movies of the week and mini-series, which sell well internationally, as well as sitcoms. Other film properties Sanitsky could exploit for TV include “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” “The Associate” and “The Basketball Diaries.”

Kuhn said there will be some personnel changes as ITC is folded into Polygram TV, but, “There will be no massive pinkslipping. We’ll do more adding of people in production.” Sanitsky said he intends to keep Matt Cooperstein, now ITC executive vice president of domestic sales, which currently employs 50 people.

It’s unclear who will take Sanitsky’s position at ICM, but one potential candidate is Steve Wohl, a VP and TV packaging agent who works for Sanitsky and deals mainly with reality syndication. Nancy Josephson heads worldwide TV at ICM.

Polygram’s U.S. traded shares on Wednesday closed down 50¢ at $47.875.