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‘Leverage’ lands independent financing

De Fanti, Sagansky to fund TNT drama's third season

Long a staple of the feature world, independent financing is finally trickling into television.

Winchester Capital Management, the finance venture founded by Jean-Luc De Fanti and TV vet Jeff Sagansky, announced last week that it would fund the third season of TNT’s “Leverage.”

Deal, through exec producer Dean Devlin’s Electric Entertainment, is worth $14 million, which will cover 16 new hour-long episodes of “Leverage.” Show’s third season bows this summer and was created for the cabler by John Rogers and Chris Downey.

According to De Fanti, Devlin funded the first two seasons of “Leverage” himself, through smaller bank financing in seasons one and two.

“But for season three, he had more episodes and needed more capital,” De Fanti said. “People call us when banks tap out at a certain number.”

De Fanti said he expects to see more independent financiers getting into the TV business — but cautions that the “Leverage” deal was somewhat unique. “In this case, Dean Devlin is someone I’ve known and done business with for many years,” he said. “And also, the show is already in its third season and has quite a bit of momentum. It’s a show that we can probably expect will have a good second broadcast cycle or life on cable.”

Winchester is more active on the feature side, having invested in films such as “The Men Who Stare at Goats,” “The Private Lives of Pippa Lee” and “The Killing Room.”

For TNT, “Leverage” was a test case. While most of its shows, such as “The Closer,” come from a normal studio setup, Devlin came to the cabler with an ability to fund his show. TNT, in turn, had a pre-existing relationship with Devlin, who produced “The Librarian” for the Turner cabler.

In most cases, however, net execs contend that the requirements of financing don’t usually sync up with the requirements of a TV network.

“We don’t have the same ability to control our order patterns,” one exec said. “Financing requires commitment to a certain number. And timing and cash flow requirements don’t overlay to our usual structure.”

Given the changing economics of TV, producers are looking for unique ways to fund their productions. In some cases, that has meant going down the branded entertainment path, signing on advertising partners.

Others have gone the international co-production route, signing up with companies like E1 to launch a show with global partners.

In another case, Media Rights Capital has raised money from firms such as Goldman Sachs, WPP Group and AT&T to launch independent film, TV and digital studios.

None of this is quite new: Until the repeal of the Fin-Syn rules, indie TV studios like Carsey-Werner regularly covered their own deficits. And advertisers have also funded shows — such as Procter & Gamble’s deals with Sony and Paramount .

But in all of those cases, including MRC and E1, investors and producers were placing their bets on an organization with an infrastructure in place.

The idea of a producer garnering funding on his or her own in the TV world is still rare — and may remain so, given the challenges and risks of getting a new series off the ground.

“Obviously you risk your money on a first year,” De Fanti said. “Even if you have a good, long order, there’s no guarantee of a second year. Unless you’re able to cover the entire budget with domestic and international sale, it’s hard to do. Particularly to produce a show of such quality.

“There are few independents with enough financial capital and risk appetite to do this,” he added.

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