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Reality titans tying the knot

Eyeworks catches 3 Ball

Dutch reality factory Eyeworks is shelling out a large eight-figure sum for 3 Ball Prods., the production company behind “Beauty and the Geek” and “The Biggest Loser.”

Pact calls for Eyeworks to take a 50% stake in the U.S. company, with 3 Ball founders J.D. Roth and Todd Nelson becoming major equity holders in Eyeworks. Roth and Nelson will continue to run 3 Ball, working in partnership with Eyeworks founder-CEO Reinout Oerlemans.

Deal instantly transforms midsize U.S. production house 3 Ball into a potential international player. In addition to giving 3 Ball “some working capital to scale the company up,” Roth said the ties to Eyeworks means his company will now have the ability to test and grow formats overseas — a big advantage when pitching projects to U.S. networks.

“We really need to have a pipeline going both ways to grow our business,” Roth said. “This lets us create a laboratory for our ideas. If a network says, ‘We like this show, but we want to know more,’ we can say, ‘We’ll put it on in New Zealand, and it won’t cost you a dime.’ ”

Roth said 3 Ball is now “a complete turnkey operation. We can create, sell, produce and distribute ideas internationally.”

Eyeworks is the No. 2 TV producer in Holland, behind only Endemol, with Oerlemans estimating his company’s sales last year at about $200 million. Now that the company has a toehold in the U.S. — along with Germany, Belgium, Sweden and New Zealand — Oerlemans said he next plans to extend the Eyeworks brand to Blighty, France and Italy.

“We want to be in important territories, and we want to be creative players that come up with new, fresh formats,” he said, outlining plans for a global “family” of reality companies where ideas are freely traded.

Deal between Eyeworks and 3 Ball — put together by their common reps at William Morris — came to fruition in just three weeks, Roth said. That may be in part because of what Roth and Oerlemans describe as an immediate corporate — and personal — chemistry.

“Sometimes you have a first date, and you just know,” Oerlemans said, while Roth said he felt as if he “had met a Dutch version of myself.”

Indeed, Roth and Oerlemans are both TV hosts-turned-producers. Roth is known for kid-targeted skeins such as “Funhouse” and “Endurance,” while Oerlemans is an ex-soap actor who hosted the first two seasons of the Dutch “American Idol.”

Both men also started their own TV companies five years ago, are each a few years shy of 40 and even drive the same car (a Range Rover).

Oerlemans emphasized that Roth will continue to be in charge of 3 Ball. “We don’t have any intention of telling J.D. how to run his company,” he said.

Roth and Nelson’s 3 Ball first landed on the map in 2003 when it co-produced NBC’s “For Love or Money” with Nash Entertainment. That led to “Who Wants to Marry My Dad?”

Company next partnered with Reveille and 25/7 Prods. for “The Biggest Loser,” which is still going strong on NBC. That was followed by a collaboration with Katalyst on “Beauty and the Geek,” which returns for a third cycle next year on new network the CW.

Other 3 Ball Prods. include VH1’s “Breaking Bonaduce” and “Super Group”; Fox’s “Unanimous”; and Discovery Kids’ “Endurance.”

Eyeworks has also grown quickly, setting up a number of successful formats such as “Test the Nation” and “Who Wants to Marry My Son?” Company has been in major expansion mode this year, snatching up Dutch-based Egmond Film & Television and a New Zealand reality titan, Julie Christie’s Touchdown shingle.

Spurring the Eyeworks spending spree: a substantial cash investment in the company earlier this year by Joop van den Ende, one of the original founders of reality powerhouse Endemol.

Five-year-old Eyeworks’ investment in 3 Ball reps a departure from the path other global reality players took into the American market. Companies such as Endemol, RDF and Granada hired U.S. execs to build Stateside outposts from scratch.

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