Porchlight set to expand

Backed by an estimated $10 million from private investors, Porchlight Entertainment is gearing up for a major expansion of its production and worldwide distribution activities over the next year.

The 2-year-old, Los Angeles-based indie is best known for producing the PBS series “Adventures From the Book of Virtues,” based on the 1994 bestseller by Beltway culture warrior and frequent TV basher William J. Bennett, and the Family Channel made-for “Night of the Twisters.” At present, Porchlight is working on another 13 episodes of “Virtues” and five more longform projects, including “The Legend of Foggy Bay” for Showtime and “Terror on Rails” for the Family Channel.

The company is focusing its initial expansion effort on the fast-growing international market for children’s programming and other family-oriented TV fare. Porchlight recently licensed 250 half-hours of programming for international distribution, ranging from deep-sea documentaries to Japanese-produced animation.

“Basically, we’re looking for 100% wholesome, family-friendly product,” says Bruce D. Johnson, co-founder and president of Porchlight.

“With the expansion of satellite and cable (TV) platforms in Latin America and elsewhere, the international market is a huge growth area for us. Buyers are just grabbing up children’s and family programs.”

Domestically, demand for original programming from cable networks ranging from Showtime to the Discovery Channel is allowing Porchlight to carve out a niche as an independent producer, Johnson said. Porchlight also is active in multimedia, having produced a CD-ROM with David Frost (“Inside the Cold War”) and a CD-ROM series of Bible stories (“My Amazing Bible Journey”) in association with Multicom Publishing.

Johnson spent 11 years as a top exec with Hanna Barbera Entertainment before forming Porchlight in 1995 with partner William Baumann. Johnson won’t confirm the size of Porchlight’s newly raised acquisition war chest, nor will he name the investors in Porchlight, except to say that one is a “major multinational company.”

Johnson and Baumann, formerly a senior exec with Taft Broadcasting and Great American Communications, see family-friendly programming as a marketplace neglected by independents.

“We’re one of the few independent companies firmly focused on this field, and we think we’re emerging as a standard-bearer,” said Johnson.

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