×

‘Top Chef’ Company Explores Possible Sale (Exclusive)

Powerhouse reality shingle Magical Elves working with French bank to field investment offers

Magical Elves, the reality TV shingle behind “Top Chef” and “Project Runway,” is evaluating bids for part or all of the company, sources close to the situation have confirmed to Variety.

Elves’ toppers Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz have selected European bank About Corporate Finance to run the sale process. The shingle has already attracted a handful of bidders, according to individuals with direct knowledge of the talks, who also caution that any potential negotiations are in their early stages.

Insiders estimate that Magical Elves is valued at around $80 million to $100 million.  Like other reality TV companies, however, the value in Magical Elves is largely tied up in the skill of Cutforth and Lipsitz as producers, and their deep industry relationships. Magical Elves does not control outright “Top Chef” and other franchises it produces, so long-term profits derived from the company’s roster of shows are limited.

Cutford and Lipsitz founded Elves more than a decade ago, and have produced long-running skeins including “Runway” and “Chef,” as well as “Fashion Star,” “Project Greenlight,” “The L Word” and “Last Comic Standing.”

Magical Elves also broke into the true crime space recently, partnering with Dick Wolf for TNT’s “Cold Justice,” which debuted earlier this month.

Even with a flourishing slate of shows, reality TV shingles’ annual earnings rarely meet that of their scripted counterparts, underscoring that a successful unscripted biz doesn’t give producers the same back-end value that the scripted business does. Several powerhouse indie reality shingles have been sold to larger studios in recent months, including “Duck Dynasty” production company Gurney Prods. to ITV Studios (About Corporate Finance helped advise on that transaction). As high volume output is key to a reality company’s financial bottom line, sale to a larger studio offers an indie shingle the needed resources to pump out more content.

Any new investment would help fund Elves’ general corporate purposes and expansion, including more production.

Elves’ interest in a potential sale or investment comes amid heightened interest in the reality production space. Cable networks like TNT, TBS, USA and AMC turn more and more to unscripted programming to help bolster their lineup of original programs, and younger nets like Esquire and Pivot are aligned primarily with the unscripted space. What’s more, cablers including TLC, A&E and GSN have seen ratings spikes within the last year thanks to original reality formats like “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” and “American Bible Challenge.”

More TV

  • Pinewood Studios James Bond

    Netflix's Shepperton Studios Deal Is Stretching the U.K.'s Production Limits

    Netflix’s huge new hub at Shepperton Studios outside London is a further fillip for Britain’s booming production sector. Amid jitters over Brexit and its effects on the economy, the streaming giant’s commitment is a vote of confidence in the U.K. entertainment industry and a continuing source of local jobs. But the decision by Netflix to [...]

  • BBC ITV BritBox Streaming

    BritBox to Roll Out in the U.K. in Fourth Quarter

    British broadcasters the BBC and ITV have formally agreed to launch their joint streaming service, BritBox, in the U.K. in the fourth quarter of 2019. It will be priced at £5.99 per month, making it the same price as the cheapest Netflix subscription in the U.K. The service in the first couple of years will [...]

  • Kamala Harris

    Joe Biden and Kamala Harris Face Rematch in Next Democratic Debate

    Former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris will have the opportunity to square off again in the second debate among Democratic hopefuls vying for their party’s nomination in the 2020 presidential election CNN, which will broadcast the next round of debates on July 30 and 31, televised a draw Thursday night that decided [...]

  • Jon Wax

    Jon Wax Joins Amazon Studios as Head of Genre Programming

    YouTube’s head of scripted programming Jon Wax is joining Amazon Studios as its head of genre programming, Variety has learned. Wax will take up the position recently vacated by Sharon Tal Yguado. He had joined YouTube in August 2017, heading up drama, unscripted and current programming for YouTube’s premium channel. Prior to that, he had [...]

  • South Park Donald Trump

    TV News Roundup: Comedy Central Sets 'South Park' Season 23 Premiere Date

    In today’s TV News roundup, Comedy Central announces the premiere date of “South Park” Season 23 and Netflix sets the premiere date and offers a first look at “Unbelievable.”  DATES Comedy Central announced that Season 23 of “South Park” will premiere Wednesday, Sept. 25 at 10 p.m. Because the episodes are written and animated so [...]

  • US actor Kevin Spacey (C) is

    Kevin Spacey Shouldn't Be Exonerated in Hollywood Even as Criminal Case Ends (Column)

    The news that criminal charges against Kevin Spacey in the Nantucket groping case have been dropped raises an inevitable question: does this mean he can claw his way back into Hollywood’s good graces? Or maybe more importantly: should it?  Spacey’s rapid descent was startling, even as it quickly followed that of the once untouchable producing [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content