The Hollywood Reporter 3/5/03
CanWest Global, Firestone split
by Etan Vlessing
TORONTO -- Canadian broadcaster CanWest Global Communications Corp. said Monday that it was parting ways with Jay Firestone, CEO of its firm and TV production arm, Fireworks Entertainment Inc.
Winnipeg, Manitoba-based CanWest Global said it will replace Firestone with veteran broadcast executive Gerry Noble and shift Fireworks' TV production focus away from Europe to North America.
Firestone formed Fireworks in 1996, a year after leaving Alliance Communications Corp. In 1998, CanWest Global acquired Fireworks as its international TV production arm, with an eye to making commercial TV series for the world market. CanWest Global said Firestone had earilyer asked that his employment agreement with Fireworks not be renewed when it expired May 4 so that he could "pursue other business ventures."
CanWest Global chief operating officer Tom Strike declined comment on Firestone's compensation package, indicating only that it contained a noncompete clause. Fireston could not be reached for comment at press time.
The original deal to buy Fireworks for about CNA$40 million ($27 million) included a contract provision that Firestone stay on as CEO for at least five years and that $4.25 million be withheld until that period ended.
Strike said Fireworks would reduce its reliance on slowing international TV markets, especially Europ, and focus on making TV series for CanWest global's Canadian TV operations and the U.S. market.
Previously, Fireworks tended to partner with U.S. broadcasters who took the first-cycle rights for their own market, leaving Fireworks with the rest of the world rights and second-cycle U.S. rights.
But given chronically disappointing European TV markets, the new business model for Fireworks will have it producing shows for CanWest Global's Canadian TV properties and the U.S. market. Fireworks will now look to Europe for aftersales rather than presales, Strike said. European TV viewers now demand a primetime diet made up almost exclusively of locally made programming, which has reducd the demand for imported product. The reduced programming sales to the European market led to growing losses for Fireworks. The film and TV producer last year secured a CAN$172 million ($116 million) credit facility after CanWest Global signaled that it would no longer supply it with financing. CanWest Global in fiscal 2002 pumped about CAN $40 ($27 million) into Fireworks.
"The green light will now be driven by what North America wants," said Strike, who would not comment on speculation that debt-ridden CanWest Global had earlier attempted to sell Fireworks.
Taking the helm at Fireworks marks a new assignment for Noble after he stepped down in February as CO of the Global Television Network, CanWest Global's Canadian TV network, to make way for chief operating officer Rick Camilleri taking firmer control of CanWest Global's Canadian TV and newspaper operations.
Strike said such top Fireworks executives as president and chief operating officer Adam Haight and Michael Weisbarth, the Los Angeles-based president of Fireworks Television, had been consulted on the company's new strategy and had agreed to remain on board.
Headquartered in Toronto, Fireworks has offices in Los Angeles, London and Dublin, Ireland. Its series include "Mutant X" and "Relic Hunter." Fireworks' film library includes "Who is Cletis Tout?" and "Rat Rac." Strike said Fireworks would maintain a distribution office in London, headed by Greg Phillips.
On another front, CanWest Global last week movd to trim losses at the National Post, the Canadian newspaper it owns and operates, by shuffling its top management.
© The Hollywood Reporter
Fireworks founder Firestone exits: VP of acquisitions, co-productions also leaving co.
By Tamson Tillson
Toronto -- Fireworks Entertainment CEO Jay Firestone has ankled the company he founded as it narrows its focus to the North American TV market.
Film and TV company was set up in 1996 by the Canuck producer but bought out by CanWest Global in 1998.
"I sold the company to CanWest Global, and I had a five-year contract when I did so," Firestone, 46, told Daily Variety. "I'm used to being an owner."
He has a one-year noncompete clause in his contract with Fireworks, but says he's "looking for opportunities."
Firestone, whose producer credits range from the movie "Black Top" to the TV series "La Femme Nikita," is based in Toronto but had been spending increasing time in L.A.
"It's a tough time in the business in general, and I'm going to go shopping. I think there's some good deals out there."
Euro sales downturn
Like many indie [sic] producer-distribs, Fireworks has been hit both by a downturn in European film sales and by a lack of interest abroad in syndie action hour series.
Firestone hopes to pick up some film projects being developed by Fireworks and to spend more time in the U.S.
The money-losing division of Winnipeg-based CanWest Global, Canada's largest media company, will now be headed by former Global TV prexy and CEO Gerry Noble, who will be based in Toronto.
"We're refocusing the operating model somewhat to become more reliant on Canada and less reliant on Europe," CanWest chief operating officer Tom Strike told Daily Variety.
Canned plan canned
The downsizing had been in the works for at least a month, with plans for Fireworks to attend the Cannes Film Festival scrapped just weeks ago.
Asked whether the Los Angeles office of Fireworks, which has a staff of four, will be affected, Strike said, "I don't want to be too specific at this point."
Fireworks Pictures VP of acquisitions and co-productions Bob Aaronson is also leaving the company shortly.
Daniel Diamond, president of Fireworks Pictures, did not return calls late Monday.
"In the short term we have to turn the feature tap off because it's too risky and requires too much of our financing ability to get involved properly on a project," Noble told Daily Variety.
Fireworks hasn't had a new film production in close to two years.
About five were pinkslipped from the L.A. office in mid-April as the company tapers down its film division. Staff who have already exited include shingle's former head of production and development Pliny Porter.
Fireworks' film distribution credits include "Rat Race" and "Rules of Engagement"; its production credits include the money-losing features "Cletis Tout" and "Interstate 60."
Fireworks has traditionally been dependent on the European sales market, which has been slumping in recent years.
"The concept is to forge a better partnership using Fireworks between our Canadian operations, Global TV and CH TV, and our U.S. partners for greenlight decisions," Strike said.
Full TV slate
The company's TV slate includes "Blake Holsey High," an NBC Saturday morning show going into its second season of production; the third season of the Tribune syndicated "Mutant X"; and the fourth season of "Andromeda."
Fireworks president Adam Height noted that the company is continuing to produce and develop for the TV market, with about a dozen projects in various stages, and a pilot, "Wild Card," recently picked up by Lifetime.
The company has had the ax hovering overhead for some time.
CanWest has invested close to C$300 million ($211 million) in Fireworks over the course of three years, and during the most recent quarterly conference call, analysts questioned the company closely on that division.