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More talks expected on $128 million bid for Henson

Courtesy of Reuters
October 10, 2002

EM.TV & Merchandising AG is expected to hold further talks with a team of two investors concerning their $128 million bid for the German children's programming giant's Muppet-making unit Jim Henson Co., people familiar with the plans said Thursday.

Saban Capital Group, led by Los Angeles-based billionaire Haim Saban, made the offer with New York-based private equity firm Evercore Partners Inc., these people said.

Spokeswomen for both firms and a spokesman for Jim Henson Co. declined to comment. EM.TV officials could not immediately be reached.

EM.TV paid the Henson family $680 million in February 2000 for the business, which created Miss Piggy, Big Bird and other beloved children's characters. The struggling German company already has sold chunks of the Henson unit, and has been looking for more than a year to sell the rest.

There had been interest from bigger media companies, such as Viacom Inc. and Disney Corp., but those talks disintegrated, according to media reports. EM.TV has already sold the "Sesame Street" Muppets characters to Sesame Workshop, and also has dumped Henson's shares in Crown Media Holdings Inc.

EM.TV may still be talking with at least one other suitor, which would preclude exclusive negotiations for now with the Saban/Evercore team, said one person close to the situation. Still, Saban and Evercore are poised to sign a non-binding letter of intent with EM.TV soon, and are the front-runners, sources said.

Saban started his investment group after he and partner News Corp. sold Fox Family Worldwide to Disney for $3 billion last year. Evercore has a range of companies in its portfolio, including American Media Inc., the publishers of tabloid newspapers National Enquirer, Star and Weekly World News.

The Henson empire was founded in 1958 by Jim Henson, who died in 1990 after contracting pneumonia. The company creates special effects for movies and runs a renowned creature shop that develops Henson's marionette-puppet hybrids known widely as Muppets.

The company, which also produces movies, recently began production in Vancouver on a live-action talking dog movie for MGM entitled "Good Boy!"

EM.TV, once a high-flying star of Germany's tech-loaded Neuer Markt segment, has fallen close to penny-stock levels. The television rights and merchandising firm has been selling off assets to pay debts.

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