Which would you rather be in charge of greenlighting — the next Littlest Groom, or the next Ron Howard movie? If you chose the latter, you’ll begin to understand the news that sent shockwaves through Hollywood executive suites on Tuesday: the unexpected departure of Fox TV programming chief Gail Berman for a top job at Paramount Pictures. The move, first reported in the Hollywood Reporter and later confirmed in a statement from Paramount, comes at a time of potential upheaval for both companies.
Berman has held the top spot at Fox for five years, making her the longest-serving programming chief at any of the networks. At Fox, she’s had a hand in developing such hits as American Idol, House, 24, and The O.C. (which Fox decided to renew for a third season on Tuesday). Of course, she’s also overseen countless tacky reality duds. Her departure comes just eight weeks before Fox must present its fall season to advertisers, leaving her successor little time to oversee the whittling of as many as 30 pilots down to a slate of just a few new shows. And that’s after the network finds a successor among the handful of executives at Fox Entertainment and its sister companies who are thought to be top candidates for Berman’s job.
Like her new boss Brad Grey, the talent manager recently named studio chief of Paramount, Berman has no film production experience to speak of. Her arrival at the studio, in a still-undefined job that Paramount’s statement described as a ”senior creative role,” comes as parent company Viacom is planning to split its assets into two public companies. (Besides Paramount, those assets include CBS, such cable outlets as MTV, radio giant Infinity, and publisher Simon & Schuster.) Paramount is also a studio in need of a hit; in 2004, it ranked seventh in market share among the major studios and grossed $635 million at the box office, about half what Sony, Warner Bros., and Disney each earned. Can Berman get the young audience she’s cultivated at Fox to buy movie tickets? Stay tuned.