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NBC Universal eyeing more UK indies

NBC Universal wants to further expand its international production division in the UK, Australia and Canada as part of the next stage of the company’s growth plans.

NBC Universal International Television Production is eyeing the acquisition of further indies to sit alongside Downton Abbey producer Carnival Film & Television, Made In Chelsea producer Monkey Kingdom and Australia’s Matchbox Pictures, which made The Slap.

It is also looking to set up creative partnerships with individuals, joining the burgeoning trend for umbrella companies, but is expected to stick to producers in English-speaking countries.

The growth plans will be helped by the appointment of former BBC Worldwide executive Sarah Cooper, who has joined as chief operating officer. Cooper was previously chief operating officer and deputy chief executive of the commercial arm of the BBC and was an integral part of BBCW’s global march, which has seen it expand its international production and channel businesses over the past few years.

She will be responsible for business and legal affairs, finance and format sales, allowing Michael Edelstein, who joined in June 2010 as president of NBCU International Television Production, to hunt for new targets and co-production opportunities.

“The advantage of bringing Sarah into NBCU is that it allows us to be more strategic as an organisation and for me to work more creatively,” said Edelstein. “It’s important to have time to focus creatively in order to find big projects and the best ideas.”

Edelstein is a former executive producer of Desperate Housewives and helped launch the CSI franchise. He said he was confident that there are still exciting new production entities to be found, highlighting Lucky Giant, which was set up by Hat Trick Productions’ former head of comedy Mario Stylianides, and Chocolate Media, set up by Alan Brown, who exec produced the first season of The Apprentice.

“We’re always open to looking around,” said Edelstein. “We don’t want to reward past success, but to build companies with a future. We want to invest in companies where we feel there’s room for growth.”

NBCU International Tele vision Production will focus on English-speaking territories rather than targeting producers across Europe, Asia or Latin America.

“We’re strong in English-language programming and we have a distribution machine that knows how to sell it,” he explained. “Rather than trying to be like Endemol, FremantleMedia or Shine, we thought we’d play it straight.”

Following the global success of Downton Abbey, particularly in the US, NBCU has lined up a fresh slate of shows for 2013. Family Tree is a Lucky Giant mockumentary series for BBC2 and HBO created by Spinal Tap’s Christopher Guest. It stars Moone Boy’s Chris O’Dowd as a young man investigating his lineage and is likely to play out this spring.

Camp is a Dazed And Confused-style comedy that will air on NBC in the summer and is produced by NBCU’s Australian producer Matchbox, while Carnival Film’s Jonathan Rhys Meyers-fronted Dracula is a co-production between NBC and Sky Living.

“Part of what I’m here to do is research and development for the US. If we can bring the next The Voice or Top Chef to the US, that would be great,” said Edelstein. “We’re thinking about how we can move the needle in the world of NBC.”

NBC UNIVERSAL’S UK BUSINESSES

Carnival Film & Television

  • Founded 1978
  • Key exec Managing director Gareth Neame
  • Key shows Downton Abbey; Whitechapel

Monkey Kingdom

  • Founded 2001
  • Key execs Managing director David Granger, creative director Will Macdonald
  • Key shows Made In Chelsea; Young, Dumb And Living Off Mum

Lucky Giant Productions

  • Founded 2011
  • Key exec Head of comedy Mario Stylianides
  • Key shows Family Tree; Homeboys

Chocolate Media

  • Founded 2010
  • Key exec Creative director Alan Brown
  • Key shows Baggage; Great Houses With Julian Fellowes

Working Title Television (joint venture)

  • Founded 2010
  • Key exec Head of TV Juliette Howell
  • Key shows Mary And Martha; Birdsong

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