France's Banijay sets up U.S. outfit

Creates joint venture with U.S.-based Angel City Factory

French production powerhouse Banijay Entertainment is expanding its growing TV empire stateside with Angel City Factory, a new U.S.-based company it has launched with veteran reality producers Chris Cowan and Jean-Michel Michenaud.

Meanwhile, Cowan and Michenaud have dissolved their 11-year-old company Rocket Science Laboratories, which hit it big at the beginning of the decade with the Fox hits "Temptation Island" and "Joe Millionaire."

Banijay CEO Guillaume De Verges said his company had been working for weeks to reach an agreement with Cowan and Michenaud.

"They're true inventors and producers, they have a great relationship with Fox, and we've worked with them in the past," De Verges said. "We know the U.S. quite well, but not better than them."

Cowan and Michenaud have strong ties to Fox, home of most of their series, including "Island," "Millionaire," "My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance," "Married by America," "Trading Spouses," "Renovate My Family" and, most recently, "Secret Millionaire," which was a co-production with RDF USA.

Angel City Factory already has several projects in the works, but Banijay refused comment on the details. Banijay's plan is to develop series in the U.S. via Angel City Factory, then sell the formats across the globe via the group's worldwide outlets.

As for Rocket Science, sources said the company was shut down amid mounting debt and liabilities. The company's more recent series had not performed as well as its early hits, and it has not been able to recoup some of its expenses for overhead and deficit financing for several series.

Additionally, Rocket Science was among the defendants in a 2005 lawsuit filed by several hundred reality show employees. In January, the suit was settled for $4 million, with Fox and Rocket Science taking the brunt of it, agreeing to pay $2.57 million.

And a scene in Rocket Science series "Married by America" led to the FCC slapping Fox stations with a $1.18 million fine.

In 2007, Rocket Science inked a deal with British-based Alchemy TV to handle its new unscripted formats worldwide, but that deal has expired. (Rocket Science's older shows are being handled internationally by Fox International TV.)

Still, Cowan and Michenaud have a great reputation in the unscripted community, and Michenaud, a French native, had been looking to forge partnership with a French company.

The Angel City announcement comes just days after Banijay took a 50% stake in German group Brainpool.

Stephane Courbit's Banijay has become a global brand in content creation and distribution, with holdings in France (Air Prod, Depeche Prod, ALJ, Jesprod), Spain (Cuarzo), Russia (Intelegencia) and now in Germany (Brainpool).

Banijay is hoping its next move will be buying into a U.K. TV outlet. "England is a very interesting country for us right now," De Verges said, adding that Banijay is in discussions with an unnamed U.K. TV house.

Rebecca Leffler reported from Paris; Nellie Andreeva reported from Los Angeles.
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