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California and the West

Berman, Braun get NBC financing deal

March 06, 2007|Meg James | Times Staff Writer

NBC Universal Television on Monday agreed to a three-year deal to finance the newly formed boutique production studio headed by veteran TV executives Gail Berman and Lloyd Braun.

The pair -- former top programmers for Fox Broadcasting and ABC -- had initially sought to create an independent production company that would own the programming it produced. The arrangement with NBC Universal, a unit of General Electric Co., accomplishes much of that and provides Berman and Braun with greater autonomy than most producers get when they go into business with major media companies.

Typically, producers are folded into a media company's TV production arm and answer to the head of the studio. But with the new arrangement, Braun and Berman will bypass NBC Universal Television Studio and deal directly with NBC Universal's top executive on the West Coast, Marc Graboff.

"The intent is to create another label and not have too many layers between them and the people who make the decisions about what goes on the air," Graboff said.

Financial terms were not disclosed, but those with knowledge of the deal said the studio, named BermanBraun, would have an ownership interest in the shows it produced. NBC Universal would have a "first look" right to pick up any of the shows developed for NBC, which is struggling to turn around its fortunes, and cable channels USA Network, Sci Fi and Bravo. If NBC Universal didn't want a particular show, the firm could shop it to others.

"Gail and I are going to be able to build the kind of content business that we envisioned, and NBC Universal is going to be a key strategic partner in doing that," Braun said in an interview.

NBC Universal will provide the firm with a budget each year to cover the costs of running the studio, money to buy scripts and develop shows, and support personnel.

The other suitor was News Corp., which wanted a more traditional relationship under which BermanBraun would report to 20th Century Fox Television Studio.

The pair joined forces in January after Berman left her post as president of Viacom Inc.'s Paramount Pictures movie studio. Braun was also in transition after exiting Yahoo, where he had been head of the Internet company's media group.

They plan two other units at their company, one producing Internet content and another for feature films.

meg.james@latimes.com

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