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Chris Albrecht Teams With Legendary for International TV Production Venture (EXCLUSIVE)

Former HBO and Starz chief Chris Albrecht is teaming with Legendary on a venture designed to produce and finance TV series for the international market.

The deal calls for Legendary and Albrecht to form a new, still-unnamed entity that will operate separately from Legendary TV but still have access to Legendary’s production infrastructure and administrative support services.

Albrecht aims to take advantage of the heightened demand for TV content around the world, as well as growing concerns by big players overseas that the supply of high-end programming from the U.S. will shrink in the coming years as Hollywood’s major studios hold on to properties to feed in-house streaming platforms such as Disney’s Disney Plus and WarnerMedia’s HBO Max. The initial focus will be on finding drama series that can travel around the world and qualify for U.K. and EU tax incentive programs. Growing markets in Asia such as Indonesia and Malaysia will also be a target.

The partnership came together over the past few months. Albrecht, who was elbowed out as CEO of Starz in February after a 10-year run, had the instinct to focus on international opportunities. He was pleasantly surprised to learn earlier this year in a meeting with Legendary CEO Josh Grode that Grode was pursuing a similar idea and was searching for the right person to take the lead.

“We can be an important part of the solution there,” Albrecht told Variety. “Legendary has a lot of credibility having been involved with a lot of iconic IP. They have the wherewithal to finance things in a unique way. We’re not going to have to wait for someone to give us an OK before we go into production or even development. This is a new pathway for the creative community to getting things made.”

Albrecht has a long track record of steering elaborate international co-production efforts. During his time at HBO he oversaw the production of such ambitious period dramas “Rome,” “Band of Brothers” and “Elizabeth I.” At Starz, one of the biggest hits of Albrecht’s tenure was “Outlander,” the time-traveling romantic drama that primarily lenses in Scotland.

The deal is in keeping with Grode’s strategy of making Legendary a much more active player in the global TV business than it has been in the past. Grode was tapped as CEO in December 2017, about two years after the company was acquired by Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda.

The deep pockets that Legendary brings to the venture will allow Albrecht to move quickly in generating development properties. He’s about to embark on a tour of major markets to meet with top TV buyers and gauge potential partnership opportunities. The goal is to find high-end material that will travel well around the world — think thrillers, action-adventure, romantic and historical drama — and also resonate in the U.S.

“Legendary has the balance sheet and the infrastructure to produce and finance shows in a different way, using the U.S. market not as the first market but the ancillary,” Albrecht said. “Coming up with shows that will work (in the U.S.) and elsewhere will be important in solving some of the challenges that terrific broadcasters are seeing.”

For Albrecht, the partnership with Legendary is ideal because he had no desire to be an executive at a large media company again. Nor did he see himself setting up shop as a purely independent producer. The entrepreneurial approach, the financial incentives he’ll have as a partner in the venture and the business philosophy that he shares with Grode made for a “great fit, he said.

“This is the best of all worlds. I have an established partner and I get to be more of an entrepreneur,” Albrecht said.

Albrecht plans to hire a small team of executives — “We’ll take a SEAL Team approach,” he quips — in the new year to help get the venture off the ground. A few development properties are already percolating, although he could not be specific because deals are still in the works.

Legendary TV, headed by Nick Pepper, has ramped up activity during the past year. The company at present is home to Netflix’s “Lost in Space” and Amazon’s “Carnival Row,” with numerous other projects in production or development.

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