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Lionsgate’s open to reality venture

Studio gets real with Hirschorn

Lionsgate is making a splash in the reality TV world, forming a joint venture with the man who put “Flavor of Love” on the air — VH1 alum Michael Hirschorn.

Under the deal, Lionsgate will provide financial, production and distribution support to Ish Entertainment, the shingle launched earlier this year by Hirschorn and Stella Stolper.

Hirschorn and Stolper have already secured a three-series commitment from MTV Networks — the first of which, MTV’s “Paris Hilton’s My New BFF,” is already in production.

Lionsgate TV programming/ production prexy Kevin Beggs, Lionsgate TV chief operating officer Sandra Stern and Hirschorn had already worked together on the 2006 doc “The U.S. vs. John Lennon,” a co-production between Lionsgate and VH1. As a result, Beggs said the two sides had already developed a “creative shorthand.”

“We’ve been wanting to expand our presence in the alternative world,” Beggs said. “We’ve been looking at companies and people we admire, and wondering how we might get in that business. When we heard Michael might be going out on his own, we were intrigued.”

Hirschorn, meanwhile, said he pondered going solo with Ish but ultimately decided a strategic partnership would allow the company to grow faster.

“I think it’s a saner way to operate,” he said. “If you’re starting out on your own, you can have a bumpy takeoff, and have to hustle in a way that might not be as comfortable. We’re being funded at a level where we know we’ll be around for several years. … It allows us to sleep at night and focus on creative.”

Both sides declined to elaborate on terms of the deal, which was characterized as long-term and open-ended.

“This gives them a jump-start with infrastructure that already exists,” Beggs said. “Our intent together with these guys is to create incredible value.”

Beggs said he and Stern were also impressed with how swiftly Hirschorn and Stolper have put together projects around town. Ish already has lined up as many as 30 different projects at various stages of development, Hirschorn said.

“A lot of their ideas are high concept, and high-concept stuff travels well,” Beggs said. “All of the things they have in the works, whether in development or moments away from production, there hasn’t been a single one that isn’t from our perspective a total winner.”

Hirschorn said he was also drawn to Lionsgate because of its international distribution prowess, and its “huge access to talent through all their other areas.”

Stolper, meanwhile, said the deal will allow Ish “the independence to run wild with ideas and develop great shows with top talent, while still functioning as a collective team.”

A former magazine editor, Hirschorn most recently served as exec VP of original programming and production at VH1, overseeing franchises such as “Flavor of Love,” “Best Week Ever” and “I Love the ’80s.” Stolper was the channel’s senior VP of celebrity talent development, wooing names such as Drew Barrymore and Eva Longoria.

As exec producer of “DMC: My Adoption Journey,” Hirschorn recently earned an Emmy.

Lionsgate continues to grow its TV division, backing skeins such as AMC’s Golden Globe-winning “Mad Men” and Showtime’s “Weeds.” Company also owns TV distribution arm Debmar-Mercury.

“Our new venture with Ish Entertainment epitomizes our ongoing efforts to develop innovative business models that work both creatively and financially,” Stern said.

As for that name — “Ish” — Hirschorn and Stolper said it’s a hip-hop term, used in place of a certain word that radio won’t allow on the air. (For those looking for less slang in their explanation, it’s also Hebrew for “man.”)

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