LOS ANGELES -- Turner Broadcasting System Inc., in a deal expected to lead to a cartoon channel, said Tuesday it has agreed to buy animator Hanna-Barbera Productions Inc., home of the Jetsons and Flintstones, for $320 million.
TBS, which announced last month it had entered into negotiations to buy the animator, said it and joint-venture partner Apollo Investment Fund L.P. have signed definitive agreements for Los Angeles-based Hanna- Barbera's library and its production business from Cincinnati-based Great American Communications Co.
Atlanta-based TBS and Apollo Investment will also acquire the distribution rights to Hanna-Barbera library by Worldvision Enterprises Inc. Cincinnati financier Carl Lindner is the largest shareholder of both Great American and Worldvision, a unit of Spelling Entertainment.
The acquisition is Turner's largest non-sports programming investment since its 1986 purchase of the MGM film library, which led to the TNT network.
The Hanna-Barbera library includes more than 3,000 half-hours of animated programming and more than 350different series, television motion pictures and theatrical films. Besides the Flinstones and the Jetsons, the library includes cartoons featuring Yogi Bear, Scooby Doo, Huckleberry Hound, the Smurfs.
'We are pleased to be one step closer to obtaining the world's finest animation library,' said Ted Turner, TBS chairman. 'The Hanna- Barbera acquisition is in keeping with Turner Broadcasting's continuing efforts to bring our viewers the highest quality entertainment programming.'
Turner, in a speech earlier this month, confirmed industry speculations that TBS was considering launching a cartoon channel based on the Hanna-Barbera acquisition.
TBS said the transactions, which must be approved by federal regulators, are expected to close by the end of the year. It also said that TBS will be able in the future, under specific circumstances, to buy out the 50 percent interest of Apollo Investment Fund.
Apollo is an investment group led by former Drexel Burnham Lambert executive Leon Black, who was Turner's adviser on the MGM deal.
Hanna-Barbera was founded in 1957 by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera and became one of the dominant suppliers of cartoons during the 1960s and 1970s with 'The Flintstones' debuting in network prime time and running for six years.
But it was late in meeting the demand in the 1980s for new syndicated programs for independent TV stations and lost share to other animation houses such as Walt Disney and the Muppets.
Two years ago, Lindner brought in David Kirschner, who had headed his own production company and created 'An American Tail' with Steven Spielberg. Kirchner has been credited with helping revive Hanna-Barbera in several key areas, including prime time, syndication and cable.
There have been rumors that Great American wanted to sell Hanna- Barbera for more than a year in order to cut its corporate debt.