- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 17, 2004

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Walt Disney Co. said yesterday it will buy the “Muppets” characters, including Kermit, Miss Piggy and the “Bear in the Big Blue House” franchise from the Jim Henson Co.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The deal, which is expected to close in about two months, culminates a decades-long pursuit of the “Muppets” by Disney, which came close to acquiring the characters in 1990. The deal fell apart shortly after the death of company founder Jim Henson.

The company then was bought by German media company EM.TV, which sold it back to the Henson family last year.

The deal does not include the “Sesame Street” characters, such as Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, who were sold earlier by EM.TV to the Sesame Workshop.

The announcement was a much-needed boost for Disney, which has been under attack for weeks from ex-board members and is the subject of a hostile takeover bid from cable television giant Comcast Corp.

It also is a coup for Disney Chief Executive Officer Michael Eisner, who has been attacked by some who say he lacks management skills.

“Michael Eisner’s long-standing passion and respect for the ‘Muppets’ gives me and my family even more confidence in Disney as a partner,” Brian Henson said.

Negotiations between Disney and the Henson family continued about six months.

The “Muppets” characters already exist in Disney theme parks in a 3D film, and “Bear in the Big Blue House,” is a long-running show on the Disney cable television channel.

Disney plans to make new television shows, video games, movies and other products with the existing characters as well as develop new characters in the coming years.

“We have been very impressed by how the Disney company treats its own characters,” said Lisa Henson, who, with her brother Brian, is co-chairman and co-chief executive of the Jim Henson Co. “We feel if the ‘Muppets’ are treated with as much care in the long term as Walt Disney’s characters are, we will have properly served the legacy.”

The deal includes a four-year consulting arrangement with the Jim Henson Co. to provide strategic advice on the use of the characters and a three-year production deal to develop movies, television shows and other projects using the characters.

The Jim Henson Co. will retain its Creature Shop, which builds the puppet characters and provides special effects for other studios, as well as the rights to its film and television library, including “Fraggle Rock” and “Farscape,” among others.

Munich-based EM.TV bought the Jim Henson Co. in February 2000 for $680 million in cash and stock. The company sold it back to the Henson family last July for $78 million in cash.

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