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‘Top Chef’ Producer Nears Sale to U.K.’s Tinopolis (Exclusive)

Prospective deal comes as larger congloms are scooping up unscripted production shops

Magical Elves, the prosperous reality TV shop behind “Top Chef” and other hits, is closing in on a deal to be acquired by U.K. production powerhouse Tinopolis Group.

Financial details of the pact remain murky. Reps for Magical Elves declined comment; execs at Tinopolis’ headquarters in Wales could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.

L.A.-based Magical Elves, headed by highly regarded producers Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz, began mulling sale options last fall, when the company retained European bank About Corporate Finance to evaluate possible transactions.

SEE ALSO: ‘Top Chef’ Company Explores Possible Sale

Sources close to the company have estimated the shingle to be worth more than $100 million, thanks to the volume of shows it handles and Cutforth and Lipsitz’s status as in-demand producers. But like most indie unscripted production companies, Magical Elves generally has little control over the rights to the shows it produces.

Magical Elves made its mark with stylish Bravo hits “Project Runway” and “Top Chef.” The company’s active roster includes TNT’s “Cold Justice,” We TV’s “Braxton Family Values” and “Tamar and Vince,” Esquire Network’s “Best Bars in America” and Showtime’s “Time of Death.” It also produces numerous spinoffs of “Top Chef,” including the upcoming Spanish-language spin for Telemundo, “Top Chef Estrellas.”

The sale to Tinopolis would continue the trend of cross-border consolidation among sizable reality players during the past few years. Endemol, FremantleMedia North America, ITV Group, Elisabeth Murdoch’s Shine Group, Core Media Group and France’s Zodiak Media have been busy scooping up successful reality production shops in recent years. Time Warner and Sony Pictures Entertainment have also swooped in to buy such outfits as Shed Media and Left Bank Pictures, respectively.

Being part of a larger entity offers the producers easier access to capital and more clout at the negotiating table — although even the larger groups frequently struggle to retain the format and international rights that are key to big-time profitability for unscripted productions.

Tinopolis is a sizable U.K. media firm that houses a clutch of production imprints spanning scripted, unscripted, digital and sports programming. Tinopolis signaled its interest getting deeper into the U.S. market with its $100 million acquisition in 2011 of A. Smith & Co., the Los Angeles-based shop behind the U.S. rendition of Gordon Ramsay’s “Kitchen Nightmares.” Tinopolis’ U.K.-based imprints Pioneer Prods. and Mentorn produce for the U.S. market as well.

Tinopolis also owns the boutique management firm Braverman/Bloom Co., based in Sherman Oaks, which focuses on clients active in the unscripted arena.

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