×

U may turn on its TV with Brillstein-Grey

Studio eyeing small screen again

Less than a year after selling its TV assets to Barry Diller, Universal is attempting to re-enter the TV business in a big way.

U is in talks with Brillstein-Grey Communications to purchase the half of the production company the studio doesn’t already own. Frank Biondi, chairman and CEO of Universal Studios, who is spearheading the effort to jump-start the TV business, also has had preliminary talks with former Universal TV Group chairman Greg Meidel about returning to the studio.

Sources say Meidel, if he accepted such an offer, would return as a top TV executive reporting to Biondi and would be charged with obtaining and managing TV assets. After Diller acquired U’s domestic TV operations, Meidel briefly moved to the newly configured Studios USA arm of Diller’s USA Networks, but he ankled that post in June and has been fielding other offers since then.

Neither Universal nor Brillstein-Grey would comment, and Meidel could not be reached, but sources say Universal is interested in purchasing the remaining 50% of Brillstein-Grey and giving co-chairman Brad Grey a top executive position at the studio.

Future control

Grey apparently wants to control his own fate and has no desire to work as a studio executive, but talks to restructure Brillstein-Grey’s deal with Universal continue. U purchased half of Brillstein-Grey for $75 million to $100 million in 1996.

Grey could still sell the entire production company and decide to bow out and start over again on his own. But sources say Grey is also considering buying back Universal’s 50% stake in his company.

Sources caution that talks are in the early stages and both sides may simply decide to stick with the status quo.

“They (Universal) would like to be in the TV business in a bigger way again,” said one source familiar with the talks. “Frank (Biondi) would like to have something to do.”

About-face

If Universal does re-enter the TV business, the move would be a complete about-face for a company that recently sold its TV assets to Diller in a complex deal that left Universal with its international distribution pipeline and half of Brillstein-Grey.

Biondi was widely believed to be irked by the Diller deal, which removed a large part of his domain. It’s unclear what Seagram chairman Edgar Bronfman Jr. thinks of Biondi’s new plan and whether shareholders would approve.

It’s also unclear how such a move would affect relations with Diller’s USA Networks and how the hiring of Meidel would impact Blair Westlake, chairman of Universal Networks and Worldwide TV Group.

The talks to purchase Brillstein-Grey are coming just as its first series are being sold into syndication, putting it into profitable territory for the first time. Columbia TriStar TV, which has distribution rights to the NBC hit “Just Shoot Me,” will soon take Brillstein-Grey’s most promising asset into syndication.

(John Dempsey in New York contributed to this report.)

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • Succession HBO

    'Succession' Composer Nicholas Britell on Making Music for the One Percent

    The Roys, the media empire family at the heart of HBO’s “Succession,” are ridiculously rich. They’re manipulative and cruel. They’re also a bit delusional and absurd. When Nicholas Britell conceived the show’s score, he wanted to capture all of that. “I wrote in this almost late-1700s, dark classical zone,” says Britell, the Oscar-nominated composer of [...]

  • Ewan McGregor of 'American Pastoral'Variety and

    Ewan McGregor Confirms Obi-Wan Kenobi Disney Plus Series to Shoot Next Year

    Ewan McGregor has confirmed that he will be reprising the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi for a Disney Plus series centered around the powerful Jedi, after Variety previously reported that he was in talks for the series. At Disney biennial D23 convention in Anaheim, Calif. on Friday, McGregor provided more details about the prospective show and [...]

  • Cody Rhodes, Brandi Rhodes. Professional wrestlers

    Listen: Brandi and Cody Rhodes Give Wrestlers’ Perspective to AEW

    Wrestlers and husband and wife duo Brandi and Cody Rhodes bring an inside the ring perspective to their executive roles at the nascent All Elite Wrestling (AEW). Cody Rhodes, executive vice president, and Brandi Rhodes, chief brand officer, spoke on Variety’s “TV Take” podcast with Joe Otterson about their new wrestling league.  AEW will put [...]

  • Ms Marvel She Hulk and Moon

    Ms. Marvel, Moon Knight, She-Hulk Series Ordered at Disney Plus

    Marvel debuted three new series it has ordered for streaming service Disney Plus at D23 Expo: a live-action Ms. Marvel series, as well as two additional series based on Moon Knight and She-Hulk. “That’s three new series coming to the MCU, that’s what Disney Plus is allowing us to do,” said president of Marvel Studios [...]

  • WGA Agents Contract Tug of War

    Opposition Candidate Blasts Writers Guild Tactics Over Agencies

    Opposition candidate Nick Jones Jr. has condemned the tactics of the Writers Guild of America in its battle against Hollywood agents. “I believe we’ve disrupted ourselves more than we’ve disrupted the Big 4,” he said. Jones, who’s running for the secretary-treasurer post as part of Phyllis Nagy’s Writers Forward Together slate, is running on a [...]

  • Crazy Ex-Girlfriend -- "Yes, It's Really

    Emmys: Netflix, 'Crazy Ex-Girlfriend' Take Early Wins as TV Academy Announces Juried Awards

    Netflix is taking the early lead at this year’s Emmys race, with six wins, thanks to the Television Academy’s juried award winners for animation, choreography, interactive programming and motion design, which were announced on Friday. The outstanding individual achievement in animation category, a “juried” prize that means several, one or no winners could be named, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content