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RHI becomes Sonar, new CEO

MIPTV: US drama firm RHI Entertainment has severed ties with its founder Robert Halmi Sr by rebranding as Sonar Entertainment and is pushing into series with a slate including a small screen adaptation of the Hellraiser films.

Stewart Till

Stewart Till

RHI’s interim co-chief executive Stewart Till has been named CEO of the newly rebranded firm, while its majority shareholder – private equity group Catalyst Capital Group – has injected US$450m into the business. A further US$50m is expected within the next 45 days.

The rebrand breaks ties with RHI founder Halmi Sr, who left the company in February this year, six months after his son, Robert Halmi Jr, stepped down from his position as CEO.

RHI has endured a turbulent few years. Halmi Jr oversaw the sale of his father’s company to Hallmark Cards for US$365m in 1994 before buying it back in 2006 for US$700m.

However, the company dropped into bankruptcy protection after being saddled with debts of more than US$600m while an IPO in 2008 didn’t meet expectations.

After the company was brought out of bankruptcy protection, Halmi Jr subsequently left in March 2011. The company then appointed Till, Mike Corrigan and David Salzman as interim co-CEOs until a replacement could be found.

After taking over as sole CEO of Sonar, Till told C21 he hoped Corrigan and Salzman would find new roles within the company. He said: “We have a past. It’s an iconic past and it also gives us an incredible catalogue of titles. We’re happy to acknowledge our past but we’re now a new company and poised to take advantage of a very exciting marketplace.

“We were put in as co-chief executives in July after Robbie left. The company could have rocked with that departure. There was a period of stabilisation but from day one we always said there was a need for a single chief executive,” Till added.

Till, whose previous roles include deputy MD of BSkyB and president of international at Polygram, said a rebrand of the company wasn’t an initial priority but “we knew going forward we did want to transform the company, and look forward and not look back.

“Obviously, RHI stood for Robert Halmi International. When the two Halmis aren’t part of the company, we knew we’d have to rebrand. Consolidation was our priority but in the last couple of months it became a desire.”

Till now wants to build a content slate that is “second to none. That’s our simple objective. Historically, we have farmed two areas, TV movies and big iconic miniseries, and we will still operate those two worlds.

“We’re also moving into the series business,” he said. “We’re very aggressively chasing that. There’s a series we’re starting to sell here based on the Hellraiser film property and it’s exactly the sort of programming the marketplace will respond well to. It’s based on a very iconic brand and it has a clearly defined target audience. It’s exciting and fresh and plays to the horror audience The Walking Dead has tapped into so brilliantly.

“We’ve got the finance to do it and it’s what the marketplace wants. It also plays to our expertise. The step from high-budget miniseries to 10- or 12-hour series isn’t a big leap.”

Other new projects in development from Sonar include King Tut (8×60′), a coproduction with Canada’s Muse Entertainment based on the life of the Egyptian pharaoh; and MPH (aka Mobile Pursuit & Harassment), a one-hour action-adventure series from screenwriter Steven E De Souza (Knight Rider). MPH follows an international law enforcement unit that goes undercover as a monster truck stunt show to gain access to nations and regions previously off-limits to the FBI or Interpol.

Meanwhile, Sonar’s distribution slate includes Disaster Pack: Volume One, a collection of five 4×60′ miniseries about disasters. They include Category 8, about the sun’s core exploding; and Eve of Destruction, in which terrorists blow up the Channel Tunnel between England and France.

The Hunters, meanwhile, is a two-hour backdoor pilot from Kickstart Productions. It is based on the graphic novel Mirror Mirror by Joshua Williamson, about a secret society with a mission to find the broken shards of Snow White’s magic mirror.

Sonar has also picked up distribution for Bomb Girls, the Canadian drama from Muse and Back Alley Film Productions, in association with Shaw Media; and four two-hour TV movies, comprising crime mystery After All These Years, Christmas Heart, drama Good Scouts and romantic comedy Meddling Mom.

Gabriel de Alba, chairman of Sonar’s board of directors and chairman of Catalyst Capital Group, said the company “was now in the best shape ever.”

“It’s a year since the ownership of the company changed and with new ownership, the focus was to re-energise the company, make it more creative but also make it solid in terms of capital,” he said.

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