LONDON: Independent producer Zenith Group, which has made series such as Byker Grove for the BBC and The Famous Five for ITV, is merging with city-backed investor TEAM to form a broad-based production and global rights exploitation business. The newly merged company, called Zenith Entertainment, will be headed by former Harvest Entertainment managing director Steve Matthews and Ivan Rendell, who becomes director of production for the children’s and family division.
At the same time, TEAM has sold its stake in distribution company Primetime to Australia’s Southern Star group. As part of that arrangement, Zenith’s shows will be distributed by Southern Star.
TEAM’s sale of its stake in Primetime is its second divestment within a year after the sale of shares in leading indie Tiger Aspect. The result is that Zenith now has access to substantial new funds for production and rights investment.
Children’s is a key area of growth for Zenith, which makes ITV’s Saturday morning show SMTV/Live. However, it’s increasingly seeking foreign and non-commission markets for its product. Currently, Zenith is co-producing a 13 x 30-minute kids series with Warner Bros. for the seven and up crowd. The premise for the Frightmares series came from Warner Bros., which will distribute the show. The live-action offering is budgeted at US$400,000 per episode, and will go into production in the spring. Zenith is currently looking for an Australian co-producer for The Coral Island, a 90-minute TV movie of R.M. Ballantyne’s classic novel that’s being developed for ITV’s 1999 line-up. Also in the works is Smith, a 90-minute action-adventure film for the family that’s based on Leon Garfield’s tales of a 12-year-old pickpocket in 18th century London.
Another key part of Zenith’s growing business is subsidiary Workhouse, which produces Web sites, CD-ROMs and videos in the children’s and educational markets.