Fremantle eyes Original Prods.

In talks to acquire the company Thom Beers founded

FremantleMedia North America is in talks to acquire Thom Beers' Original Prods.

Beers, who founded Original in 1999, has created a distinct "blue collar hero" unscripted programming brand with such shows as "Deadliest Catch," "Ice Road Truckers" and "Axeman." With a dozen series on television, mostly on cable, he's one of the most prolific reality producers.

A deal would expand Beers' existing business relationship with Fremantle. In August, Fremantle picked up international distribution rights to several Original series: "Verminators," "America's Port, L.A.," "Hard Hats," "1,000 Ways to Die" and "Black Gold."

It's been an active year for acquisitions in the reality field, led by Shine Group's buy of Reveille and Endemol USA's purchase of a controlling stake in Cris Abrego and Mark Cronin's 51 Minds. Both deals could reach $200 million if financial targets are met.

Financial terms for a potential Fremantle/Original deal are unclear, but observers value it at less than $100 million.

Reveille and 51 Minds own the rights to their unscripted fare. Beers' older, better-known series are said to be owned by the cable networks that run them, with Original having ownership to newer shows like those sold internationally by Fremantle. Fremantle also handles international distribution on Beers' four series for NBC, including "America's Toughest Jobs," whose rights are said to be split between Original and BermanBraun.

Because of the limited ownership, insiders liken a partnership between Beers and Fremantle to a larger-scope overall deal with the top producer.

Currency fluctuations also lower the dollar value of the Beers deal when compared with the other two acquisition agreements. Like U.K.'s Shine and Dutch giant Endemol, Fremantle (owned by German-based RTL Group) is an European-based company and makes its deals in European currencies.

"With the credit crunch and the dollar rising, closing any deal in this environment is a major accomplishment," one observer said.

Aside from buying a minority stake in Australia's Beyond International in September, Fremantle has been relatively quiet on the acquisition front this year. The company reportedly had been interested in acquiring Mark Burnett's company.
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