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Guber-Peters Start 'Real Studio' Via Merger With Barris

December 14, 1987|WM. K. KNOEDELSEDER JR. | Times Staff Writer

The Guber-Peters Co., one of the most prolific independent movie companies in Hollywood, is going public by merging with Barris Industries Inc., the publicly-traded TV production and syndication firm headed by producer-industrialist Burt Sugarman.

Guber-Peters will be folded into Barris, with the firm's founder-owners, Peter Guber and Jon Peters, receiving 3 million shares of Barris common stock and $7.5 million in short-term notes. That makes the deal worth about $27.75 million, since Barris stock closed at $6.75 in over-the-counter trading Friday.

The agreement was signed Friday afternoon in Guber-Peters' offices at The Burbank Studios. Guber-Peters had been looking for a public partner for some months, entering into discussions with both De Laurentiis Entertainment Group and RKO General Inc. before agreeing to join with Sugarman and Barris. The new entity will trade under the the Barris name until a new company name is decided upon. "That's our No. 1 priority right now," said Sugarman, who will serve as co-managing director along with Guber and Peters.

"This is a complete pooling of assets. What we've established is a broad-based entertainment company with $100 million in cash and no bank debt," he said. Barris has two syndicated game shows in production, "The New Newlywed Game" and "The All New Dating Game." The company owns the rights to "The Gong Show" and "Celebrity Sweepstakes" as well as 400 episodes of the long-running late-night concert series "Midnight Special," which were produced by Sugarman in the 1970s and are now being re-edited for syndication.

According to Sugarman, Barris' TV library contains 6,000 half hours of programming. Barris, which is 31% owned by Giant Group Ltd. a Beverly Hills-based holding company also headed by Sugarman, reported profits of $15.2 million on revenues of $63.4 million for 1987. Both figures are more than double the results for 1986. The company was founded in 1968 by game show producer Chuck Barris, who sold his interest to Giant earlier this year.

4 Movies in Release

Barris Industries also has a 9.8% stake in Media General--representing a $100-million investment, according to Sugarman--and has said it may seek control of the big newspaper and broadcasting company.

Guber-Peters currently has four movies in release--"Who's That Girl," starring Madonna, "Witches of Eastwick," starring Jack Nicholson, "Inner Space" and the Steven Spielberg-directed "The Color Purple"--all distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures.

According to Jon Peters, the company also has 150 TV, movie and soundtrack album projects in various stages of development. Upcoming movie projects include "Rainman," starring Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise, to be directed by Sidney Pollack for United Artists Pictures; "Caddyshack II," starring Chevy Chase, to be released by Warner Bros., and "Gorillas in the Mist," starring Sigourney Weaver as famed anthropologist Dian Fossey, who was slain in Rwanda in 1985. The latter film is a joint project of Warner Bros. and Universal Pictures.

In the past, Guber-Peters functioned largely as a middleman in the movie-making process, acquiring and developing creative projects, then selling them to larger producer-distributors for a fee and a royalty. The firm financed and produced three movies on its own in recent years--"Endless Love" with Brooke Shields, "American Werewolf in London" and "Missing," which starred Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek. "But basically, we've been a pass-through company," explained Peters. "We took our profits and put them into real estate and other investments."

With the merger, however, the partners intend to increase the firm's output from six films per year to as many as 12. "The larger management pool and increased capital will allow us to take a more prominent role in the industry. We'll have more muscle and more control over our own destiny," said Guber. "We'll be making more movies using our own money, and we intend to get even more deeply involved in the literary market in New York."

'Real Studio Now'

Guber-Peters just acquired the film rights to "The Bonfire of the Vanities," Tom Wolfe's first novel, which is currently No. 3 on the New York Times bestseller list.

"We're a real studio now," said Peters, ticking off a litany of planned expansion moves that include the acquisition of one or two talent management companies, the launching or purchase of a record label to be distributed by a major company and the establishment of a specialty newspaper publishing division.

Guber-Peters already owns a Spanish-language entertainment weekly called Mundo Artistico. A so-called giveaway, it has a Los Angeles-based staff of 30 and is distributed throughout the Los Angeles area. "We bought it three years ago and it's now the No. 1 Hispanic weekly in the country, with a circulation of about 100,000" said Peters. "We plan to expand into all the major Latin markets in the country."

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