Cannell wins back rights to TV series

Regains distrib rights to 1,000 hours of programming

Prolific TV scribe Stephen J. Cannell, who once headed one of Hollywood’s largest indie TV production outfits, has regained custody of his creative offspring.

Cannell has reacquired the distribution rights to about 1,000 hours of Cannell-produced series and made-fors that were transferred to Fox when News Corp. purchased New World Communications Group in 1996. Cannell sold his Cannell Entertainment outfit to New World for $30 million in March 1995.

Now, worldwide sales of such Cannell action-adventure fare as “21 Jump Street,” “Wiseguy,” “The Commish” and “Renegade” will be handled by Stephen J. Cannell Prods. Not covered by the new deal are two of Cannell’s biggest TV hits, “The A-Team” and “Hunter,” whose distribution rights are controlled by Universal and Columbia, respectively.

Pat Kenney, who was Cannell Entertainment’s distribution prexy in the 1980s and early ’90s, will spearhead the push to boost global distribution of the titles, some of which may be marketed under a “Stephen J. Cannell Presents” banner.

“It’s a great deal for (Fox) and it’s a great deal for me,” Cannell told Daily Variety. “It gives me the opportunity to personally sell my library, which I really invested in. I spent some 20-odd years building it up … and I wanted to be personally involved with the sales. Fox accepted that and saw it as a big plus.”

Cannell’s new arrangement with Fox does not involve a cash buyout, but rather a renegotiation of the terms of their distribu-tion agreement. Neither Cannell nor reps for 20th Century Fox TV would comment on specifics, but it’s understood that under the new pact, Cannell will pay Fox a royalty on international and domestic sales of the titles.

Cannell maintained a certain leverage with respect to his older series because he never sold the library outright to New World. At the time of the sale, Cannell could not come to terms with then New World chief Ronald Perelman over the value of his library, so both agreed to a long-term distribution deal instead. The complex deal, which Fox inherited, hinged on New World hitting specific gross dollar amounts for each title, rather than a specific time frame.

In its heyday, Cannell Entertainment was one of Hollywood’s hottest indie production-distribution outfits, chalking up $80 million in network and syndie programming orders for the 1987-88 season. Until the sale to New World, Cannell and his wife, Marcia, owned 100% of the company, handling the risky business of deficit financing through bank loans.

Today, Cannell is focused on his new career path as a novelist and film scribe. His latest book, “Riding the Snake,” is due out in September. MGM is developing a feature pic based on his 1997 thriller “King Con.”

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