Freedom Communications’ expansion into Los Angeles is beginning to take shape.

The Santa Ana publisher agreed last month to take over operations of the Easy Reader weekly and monthly community newspapers, based out of Hermosa Beach.

The Easy Reader distributes its namesake community weekly in the beach cities of the South Bay. Freedom will use the paper as a coastal bureau for its soon to be launched Los Angeles Register. The other plan is to expand distribution beyond the South Bay, all the way up the coast to Malibu.

Kevin Cody, publisher and owner of the Easy Reader, said he was looking for a way to grow Easy Reader’s distribution to new areas, but he lacked funding due to industrywide cutbacks in ad spending, which hit the papers hard in the recession.

“We had been struggling since 2008 and we were looking for a way to get on solid footing again,” Cody said. “If we were going to bootstrap it, who knows how long it would take?”

Cody began talking with Freedom Chief Executive Aaron Kushner in December on the advice of Richard Budman – a business consultant Cody brought in a few years ago who had noticed Kushner’s interest in Los Angeles.

Cody is still the paper’s owner. The arrangement is a lease of his editorial and advertising operations to Freedom. Cody said the agreement lasts a number of years, but wouldn’t specify how many and he wouldn’t say how much Freedom is paying.

The Easy Reader has 15 employees, including six editorial staffers.

The management agreement does shine some light on how Kushner expects to cover Los Angeles without going on a hiring spree. Freedom earlier this month laid off about 75 workers in Orange County, including many top-ranking reporters and editors.

Cody said his South Bay reporters are more experienced in local issues such as oil drilling in Hermosa Beach and can deliver better stories than a reporter just starting to cover the area.

Soundstage Makes Noise

Even in the face of rampant runaway production, Craig Darian, chief executive of L.A. soundstage company Occidental Entertainment Group Holdings, is betting big on local production.

Darian said he’s planning to break ground on a 20,000-square-foot soundstage at Occidental’s East Hollywood complex, which now has both soundstage and office space. The cost of the expansion could exceed $10 million.

The company already has about a dozen soundstages, spread throughout Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley, which are frequently rented out by the likes of 21st Century Fox and Walt Disney Co. Occidental also offers production services such as props and lighting.

The expansion will be financed from existing operations. Darian thinks that local production will sustain the new facility. He said what really drove the expansion was the possibility of an expansion of the California film tax credit program, which would boost local filming.

“More than anything, it is confidence that there will be more tax credits in California than there have been in the past,” he said.

Darian also exercised an option last month to buy a 50 percent stake in the company from a trust that he co-owns with the company’s founder, Albert Sweet.

‘Shark’ Switch

After getting some flak from former contestants, ABC reality show “Shark Tank” has made its contract a bit more contestant friendly.

As the Business Journal reported last year, the show’s producers, including an affiliate of Mark Burnett’s production company, the ABC network and Sony Pictures Television, had the chance to take a 5 percent equity stake in any of the businesses that pitched the show’s on-air panel of investors – even if Mark Cuban and the rest of them turned down the investment opportunity.

That was all changed for the show’s fifth season, which is currently airing.

An ABC spokeswoman confirmed that the 5 percent clause is no longer a part of the “Shark Tank” contract.

Comings and Goings

The non-profit Academy of Television Arts and Sciences has hired former Variety executive Rose Einstein to oversee ad sales and business development for its annual Emmy magazine. … Venue operator Nederlander Concerts has hired Dave Poe as talent buyer.

Staff reporter Jonathan Polakoff can be reached at or (323) 549-5225, ext. 226.

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