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Berman, Braun in producing venture

The TV veterans, having departed Paramount and Yahoo, are forming their own company.

January 30, 2007|Claudia Eller and Meg James | Times Staff Writers

Two of the television industry's biggest names are forming a company to produce TV programs, movies and Internet entertainment, according to four people familiar with the plan.

Gail Berman, who stepped down this month as president of Paramount Pictures, is teaming up with the person who recommended her for that job two years ago: Lloyd Braun, the former ABC Entertainment chairman who until December was head of Yahoo Inc.'s media group.

BermanBraun, their new venture, initially will focus on TV production, the Internet and movies, the sources said.

The pair eventually will expand into producing stage productions and video games.

BermanBraun will be modeled after such former independent boutiques as Carsey-Werner and Brillstein-Grey Entertainment, which maintained financial interests in the shows they produced.

Most Hollywood production companies are financed by the major media giants, which then own most of the entertainment content that is produced.

Before joining Paramount nearly two years ago, Berman built the Fox broadcast network into a ratings juggernaut with such hit shows as "24," "House" and "American Idol."

Braun, before being forced out of Walt Disney Co.'s ABC in 2004, came up with the concept for "Lost" and recruited hotshot writer-director-producer J.J. Abrams to develop the show. "Lost" was instrumental in turning around the fortunes of ABC, which was fourth place in the ratings at the time.

The two are looking for a studio home for the company and are in discussions with 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros., CBS Corp. and NBC Universal, among others. Some studio executives, however, say they would balk at a deal if Berman and Braun insisted on keeping total financial control.

ABC is not on the list of contenders. Braun had a public and bitter falling-out with Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger.

Nor is Berman, 49, in conversations about her new endeavor with her former boss, Paramount Chairman Brad Grey. Berman resigned two weeks ago after a tumultuous tenure at the famed Melrose Avenue studio.

Braun has close ties to Grey, having worked for him in the mid-1990s, when Grey was a talent manager, and was instrumental in helping Grey form Brillstein-Grey. Braun oversaw the development and production of such shows as "NewsRadio," "Just Shoot Me" and HBO's blockbuster mafia series "The Sopranos."

Shortly after Grey took the reins at Paramount in the spring of 2005, Braun suggested that he hire Berman. Although she lacked moviemaking experience, Berman is widely respected for her creative skills.

It was Berman's lack of gravitas in the film industry and her direct and sometimes abrasive style, as well as an upheaval at Paramount, that led to her resignation less than two years into her four-year employment contract.

Berman told confidants that after her difficult experience at Paramount she was no longer interested in taking another executive job.

Before joining the Fox network in 2000, Berman was the founding president of Regency Television, which produced "Malcolm in the Middle." She also had a successful run on Broadway, where she produced such plays as "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat."

Braun, 48, also felt somewhat shackled in a corporate setting, according to people familiar with his thinking. He was hired in 2004 to run Yahoo's Santa Monica-based media and entertainment group with a mandate to turn Yahoo into a full-fledged digital entertainment company. But within a year and a half, Yahoo had dramatically downsized its aspirations to be a major content creator.

Braun, a former entertainment lawyer, resigned as part of a management shake-up in December.

claudia.eller@latimes.com

meg.james@latimes.com

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