Gail Berman Biography



President of Paramount Studios

Born c. 1957, in Bellmore, NY; married Bill Masters (a television scriptwriter); children: two. Education: University of Maryland, theater degree, 1978.

Addresses: Home —Pacific Palisades, CA. Office — Paramount Pictures, 5555 Melrose Ave., Hollywood, CA 90038.

Career

Play producer, beginning 1978; supervising producer, then executive producer, The Comedy Channel, c. late 1980s-early 1990s; executive producer, Sandollar, All-American Girl, Buffy The Vampire Slayer , and Angel; founding president, executive producer, Regency Television, 1998–2000; president of entertainment division, FOX Broadcasting Network, 2000–05; president, Paramount Studios, 2005—.

Awards: Ranked at number 25 on Fortune magazine's "50 Most Powerful Women in American Business" list, 2003; Lucy Award, Women in Film, 2003; ranked number 49 on Forbes magazine's "100 Most Powerful Women in the World" list, 2004.

Sidelights

Gail Berman has led the life of which many people dream. After seeing a production of Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat , she and a partner decided to bring the show to Washington,

D.C. Having no experience in producing plays, the partners hounded a financier until he helped them. The show was a success, and soon moved to Broadway. Years later, she was given the chance to work for a new cable channel, The Comedy Channel, though she had zero experience in television. This foot in the door, however, soon led her to Hollywood and the opportunity to work on such shows as Buffy the Vampire Slayer , its spin-off Angel , and All-American Girl. Her rising star was noticed by the FOX Network, and she was hired as the president of entertainment. She turned the struggling network around, and then stepped up to motion pictures by agreeing to run Paramount Studios.

Berman was born in the late 1950s in the city of Bellmore on Long Island, New York. She grew up in this small suburb which is an hour away from Manhattan. Very little is known about her childhood, but she did graduate from the University of Maryland in 1978, where she majored in theater.

Berman saw a production of Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in Maryland and together with classmate Susan Rose decided to bring the show to Washington, D.C. They aggressively pursued the producer of the He agreed to sell them the rights to the show. They show, Robert Stigwood. began to raise the money, "like Girl Scouts selling cookies, " Berman told Bernard Weinraub in the New York Times , and were helped along by Washington businessman Melvyn J. Estrin. Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat was slated for a six-week run. Six weeks turned into nine months. The partners soon moved the production to New York. After spending two months Off Broadway, the show ran for two and a half years at the Royale Theater on Broadway. The production also received seven Tony Award nominations during its run.

Berman went on to produce a few more plays, including Hurlyburly , before deciding to change directions. She was offered a supervising producer position on a new cable channel launched by HBO Networks, The Comedy Channel, which would later become Comedy Central. She was promoted to executive producer. "I didn't know anything about television. But I did know how to read a script. I did know how to work with writers. I did know how to work with production people. And what I learned eventually was that producing is the same, in whatever medium, " Berman told Weinraub in the New York Times.

Berman's husband is scriptwriter Bill Masters, who worked on such shows as Murphy Brown and Seinfeld. His work called for him to spend his time on the West Coast. The couple decided to move to Los Angeles, and Berman found employment with production company Sandollar, which was co-owned by singer Dolly Parton. She produced several shows, including All-American Girl, Buffy the Vampire Slayer , and Angel. She worked for Sandollar for more than six years before leaving. However, she stayed on as executive producer of both Buffy and Angel. She worked with the Regency company which later became Regency Television, a joint venture between Regency and FOX Television Studios. Berman was named founding president, and the new company created such hits as Malcolm in the Middle and The Bernie Mac Show.

Those two shows both aired on the FOX Network. With her proven track record of producing hit shows, Berman was tapped to head the entertainment division at FOX. Sandy Grushow, chairman of FOX Television Entertainment, told Electronic Media that Berman has "an innate ability to create programming that taps into what appeals to younger viewers. Simply put, Gail has her finger on very contemporary sensibilities and that is echoed by her involvement in Buffy and Malcolm. " Berman had a great challenge ahead of her. Though FOX had many hits under its belt since it first aired in 1987, including 21 Jump Street, Married With Children, Beverly Hills 90210, The X-Files , and Ally McBeal , by 2000 many of its hits were either no longer on the air or in decline. FOX also had jumped on the reality show bandwagon, and produced a large number of controversial shows, including Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?, Married By America , and When Animals Attack. The network continually lost in the ratings, and also failed to reach its target audience of viewers aged 18–34 who were coveted by advertisers who purchased airtime. Without its target audience, FOX could not get top dollar for its airtime.

Berman, the seventh president in eight years, helped the company climb out of the muck and mire it found itself in by choosing shows, both scripted and unscripted, that were innovative and "pushe[d] the envelope, " she told Electronic Media. In addition to looking to Regency Television for programs, Berman was instrumental in bringing to the FOX family such shows as American Idol , which won its time slot since it began airing. It was also number one in its targeted audience of viewers aged 18–34. American Idol also saw the return of female viewers to FOX. Other shows that garnered high ratings included Titus, Temptation Island , and 24.

With American Idol , which began as a summer show in 2002, Berman began to develop a style of programming that changed the way networks would do business. Normally all the networks would air first-run episodes of their shows in the fall, with a few shows beginning in January or February as midseason replacements. While reality shows could be aired at any time due to the ease of putting together this style of show, none of the networks aired first-run scripted shows or even introduced new scripted shows during the summer. Berman and her team, however, began pursuing introducing new programming year-round, especially since the network was always behind due to baseball's World Series, which aired on FOX, and the 2004 Summer Olympics which pre-empted all new programming on all of the networks since it would draw the most ratings. In 2003, FOX began airing episodes of a new dramedy, The O.C. , in early August. The show was a hit among young viewers, especially in the targeted audience age range and among women.

With the success of The O.C. , and American Idol continually staying atop the ratings charts, Berman prepped for the first full year of new programming, which began in June of 2004. Thanks to this creative strategy, FOX consistently won the top spot ratings for a handful of its shows, both new and returning. The summer of 2005 saw a couple of new hits that happened as the result of her tenure at FOX.

As her contract with FOX came to an end, Berman began talks with Paramount Studios to become president of the fledgling company. She was offered a contract, and she began a new era in the spring of 2005. Many were critical of her hiring, but she told Daily Variety , "I recognize that there is some skepticism so I come into this with a great deal of humility. The bottom line is going to be fostering an environment where creative ideas will transfer into great films." Before stepping down as FOX's president, Berman helped the network unveil its upcoming season. She also took some time to introduce herself to Paramount employees and partners. Upon completion of this task, she began to work in earnest to return Paramount to its ranking as one of the top studios, a place the company had lost. She began seeking scripts that went against the norm. Berman also struck deals with various writers, producers, and production companies, something that Paramount had been reluctant to do in the past. The studio also wanted to chase after films with bankable stars, and release more films in a year.

While Paramount's slump seemed to be ending with the previous regime's slate of films in the summer of 2005, no one can discredit what Berman will do for the studio during her time there. Paramount Studio chairman Brad Grey told Daily Variety , "Gail is one of the most respected and talented executives in the entertainment industry.… She brings to the studio the best of all the skills she has developed over the years and I'm sure she will be as successful in this transition as others before her have been." It is likely that Berman will face this new challenge with the same tenacity she has utilized in both the theater and television.

Sources

Books

Marquis Who's Who , Marquis Who's Who, 2005.

Periodicals

Broadcasting … Cable , January 19, 2004, p. 6A.

Daily Variety , March 28, 2005, p. 2; March 31, 2005, p. 1.

Electronic Media , May 29, 2000, p. 2.

Mediaweek , April 12, 2004, p. 26.

New York Times , July 24, 2000, p. B1.

Online

"Paramount taps Berman to run studio, " CNN Money, http://money.cnn.com/2005/03/30/ news/fortune500/paramount_berman.reut/ index.htm (March 31, 2005).

Ashyia N. Henderson



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