Henson, Hallmark bow family net

Kermit Channel to launch in Asia, Latin America

NEW YORK — The Jim Henson Co. and Hallmark Entertainment will launch the Kermit Channel, a 24-hour family-entertainment network aimed at subscribers in Asia and Latin America.

It’s a 50-50 partnership, and Robert Halmi Jr., the CEO of Hallmark Entertainment, says the Kermit Channel’s first deals will be with the Asian and Latin American affiliates that now carry the 24-hour pay TV movie channel HEN (Hallmark Entertainment Network).

HEN is an all-movie network that draws on the films in the Hallmark inventory and acquired pictures like the 120 movies in the CBS library, according to Halmi, who says about one-third of the films that run on HEN come from outside suppliers.

Halmi says the Hallmark Network is close to breaking even, reaching six-million homes through 10 separate feeds in 14 languages, mainly in Asia and Latin America. The business plan for the Kermit Network, which goes on line Sept. 1, 1998, he continues, is to move into profit in its third year of operation.

Halmi declined to discuss the amount of money Hallmark and Henson are putting into the Kermit Network. “We’re both private companies,” he said. “So we’re shy about revealing” dollar figures.

Charles Rivkin, president and chief operating officer of the Jim Henson Co., says Henson’s Creature Shop has worked with Hallmark on some of its most successful miniseries, such as “Merlin,” “The Odyssey” and “Gulliver’s Travels, ” all of which scored big in the Nielsens when NBC ran them in primetime sweep periods. Hallmark and Halmi are now filming a two-hour adaptation of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” for TNT using computer-generated animatronics.

Serving on the board of the Kermit Channel are Margaret Loesch, president of the Jim Henson TV Group Worldwide, and George Stein, president and CEO of HEN. The headquarters of both Kermit Channel and HEN are in Englewood, Colo.

Programming available to the Kermit Channel includes more than 2,000 family shows owned by Hallmark, including children’s versions of “Trojan Horse,” “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” and “Moby Dick,” and animated series “Space Monkeys,” “Archie” and “Fat Albert.” Some of this product comes from the Filmation library, which Hallmark owns.

Henson programs that will show up on the Kermit Channel include “The Muppet Show,” “Muppet Babies,” “Fraggle Rock” and theatrical features such as “The Muppet Movie,” “The Great Muppet Caper” and “Labyrinth.”