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Fri, May 09, 2003 - Page 12 News List

Hensons reclaim Muppets in surprise repurchase bid

AP , LOS ANGELES

The family of Muppet creator Jim Henson has succeeded in a surprise bid to repurchase the company they sold to a German media firm in 2000.

The Henson family decided only two weeks ago to bid for The Jim Henson Co, which they will buy for a fraction of what Munich-based EM.TV paid for it, according to Brian Henson, the son of the company's late founder.

Munich-based EM.TV bought the company, and the rights to characters such as Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy, in February 2000 for US$680 million in cash and stock.

But in May 2001, it said it was considering selling the Los Angeles-based firm. It has since sold some Henson assets, including the Sesame Street rights, for about US$200 million.

On Wednesday, it said it was selling the rest of Henson for US$78 million in cash and was keeping the US$11 million that the Henson operation had on hand.

"The family has been watching on the sidelines, sadly watching as EM.TV collapsed and never even started [planning what] they were going to do, and then painfully [watched] as the company was put back on the market," Henson said Wednesday in an interview.

``Both out of concern for where the company might end up and the legacy of Jim Henson ... `enough is enough,' we decided to come back in to run the company,'' he said.

Other companies thought to have made bids included The Walt Disney Co. Disney planned to buy the company at least once before, but the deal fell apart shortly after Jim Henson's death in 1990.

Brian Henson, 39, would not say if his family's bid was prompted by concern that the Muppets would be bought by Disney.

"Disney is a terrific company," Henson said. "We only have the highest respect for Disney as a company."

Jim Henson founded his company in 1958, inventing the term "muppet" as a cross between the words marionette and puppet.

The buyers include five Henson children: Brian, a brother and three sisters. The assets they bought include The Muppets, The Muppet Babies, The Fraggles, The Hoobs, Farscape and Bear in the Big Blue House.

The sale agreement still requires approval by EM.TV shareholders. EM.TV's annual general meeting is scheduled for July 20.

Henson said his family decided to sell in 2000 because, as independent producers, they could not raise enough cash to become the kind of vertically integrated media company they felt they needed to be to survive.

"It was looking like we wouldn't even get on the air if we didn't own a TV channel," Henson said. "We decided the `grow bigger' scenario was the best for the company."

Unfortunately, Henson said, EM.TV never followed through on its promise to spend money to market the Muppet characters and produce new projects.

"Instead, the emphasis of the company went to `What can we split off and sell' as opposed to `How do we build up the Muppets,'" Henson said.

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