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Berman appears to be on way out

The No. 2 executive at Paramount has been on awkward footing since her March 2005 hiring.

January 10, 2007|Claudia Eller and Meg James | Times Staff Writers

Less than two years after she was hired to help turn around Paramount Pictures, President Gail Berman and the studio are expected to sever ties this week, according to four people familiar with the situation.

Late Tuesday, Berman and Paramount Chairman Brad Grey had not formally discussed the terms of her departure. Berman has more than two years left on her contract.

Paramount declined to comment. Berman did not return calls. Executives with knowledge of the plan asked not to be named because the matter was not yet public.

It was unclear Tuesday how Berman's role would be filled. Two top Paramount executives -- Rob Moore and Brad Weston -- could figure prominently in a management restructuring, studio insiders said.

Berman's exit comes as no surprise. Almost from the moment Grey handpicked the veteran TV executive in March 2005 to become his creative lieutenant, Berman, 49, has been dogged by rumors of her demise.

Some agents, producers and colleagues were put off by Berman's matter-of-fact and sometimes abrasive style and her lack of movie experience.

It hasn't been a happy marriage for Berman either. She felt Grey never gave her the kind of authority she needed to be effective in her job, said people close to Berman. The studio's acquisition last year of DreamWorks SKG's live action studio further undercut Berman's power by reducing the number of movies she was responsible for overseeing.

Berman's exit is likely to create instability just as Paramount is showing signs of a turnaround. After a prolonged dry spell, the studio has recently rebounded with such box-office successes as "Dreamgirls," "Nacho Libre," "Jackass: Number Two" and "World Trade Center." Paramount's "Babel" recently captured the most Golden Globe nominations.

Berman got off to a rocky start in a business she knew little about. Both she and Grey spent most of their careers in TV. Grey was one of Hollywood's most powerful talent managers and had produced such hit shows as "The Sopranos."

Berman had a successful record as president of entertainment at Fox Broadcasting Co., where she shepherded such hits onto the air as "24," "House," and "American Idol." She also produced such cult favorites as "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Malcolm in the Middle."

Shortly after joining Paramount, Berman was confronted with published rumors that her job was in jeopardy. Agents and executives complained that Berman was often too tough and impolitic in her dealings with those accustomed to being coddled.

When confronted with such complaints, Berman made amends with various top agents. She took home piles of scripts to read each night. But Berman never clicked with some of her colleagues.

Her supporters said Berman bristled under Grey's management style, which at times can be exclusionary, aloof and non-confrontational.

Several people who do business with Paramount fault top management for its lack of teamwork and rampant backbiting.

In addition, Grey's hiring of former Universal Pictures Chairman Stacey Snider to run Paramount's DreamWorks unit also diminished Berman's role.

By Christmas, Berman's relationship with Grey had so deteriorated that she had begun preparing her exit strategy and laying the groundwork to form a production company, possibly with a deal at Paramount.

It wouldn't be the first time Berman has run her own show. In the 1980s, she made a name as a successful Broadway producer with "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," "Hurlyburly" and other stage productions.

claudia.eller@latimes.com

meg.james@latimes.com

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