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Fox Losing Its Head

By Lisa de Moraes
Wednesday, March 23, 2005; Page C01

About eight weeks before it's supposed to unveil its prime-time lineup to advertisers, the Fox network finds itself faced with the prospect of no programming chief.

Fox Entertainment President Gail Berman has informed her bosses she will not re-up her contract and instead will move to Paramount Pictures to take a creative job under recently appointed Chairman Brad Grey, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.

Gail Berman has overseen the development of such hits as "American Idol" and "24." (Fred Prouser -- Reuters)

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Yesterday afternoon, the film studio put out a statement:

Paramount Pictures is in discussions with Gail Berman for a senior creative role at the studio. We hope to conclude the discussions shortly. Ms. Berman is one of the most talented executives in the entertainment industry, with great relationships, exceptional taste, and an amazing creative track record. She would be a great addition to the Paramount team.

Fox had no comment.

Berman has been the head of programming for Fox since July 2000, a major accomplishment in itself at a network with a reputation for chewing up and spitting out its programming chiefs.

Berman also is Fox's first-ever actual series producer to hold the position. As the founding president of Regency Television, she developed "Malcolm in the Middle," and as president of Sandollar Television, she developed "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

Berman, a former Broadway producer, is highly respected by the creative community and can keep talent happy like nobody's business; you should see her work the room at Fox's press-tour parties. Under her watch, Fox developed "American Idol," "House," "24," and "Arrested Development" but also "Skin," "Andy Richter Controls the Universe" and "Method & Red."

Berman had been in talks about renewing her Fox contract, which is scheduled to expire later this year. There had been much speculation last fall -- when Fox once again had a lousy fourth quarter trying to launch a prime-time slate hobbled by constant baseball interruptions -- that Berman would get sacked. All talk of that sort ended the morning the numbers came in on the fourth-season debut of "American Idol."

Still, news of Berman's plans to exit the network came as such a surprise to the Hollywood TV community yesterday that no name bubbled to the top during a whole afternoon of rampant gossiping and e-mailing. The trades seemed to like 20th Century Fox TV President Dana Walden and Peter Liguori, chief of Fox's FX cable network, the best.

We Watch So You Don't Have To:

It's Billboard Chart-Toppers Night on "American Idol," which apparently is a real turn-on for judge Paula Abdul, who keeps trying to snog fellow judge Simon Cowell. Except when she's screaming at him and beating him. Maybe Fox should make the judges shack up together in a Beverly Hills mansion while they're working on "Idol" and see what happens.

I think I'm watching too much reality TV.

Anthony Federov sings "I Knew You Were Waiting (for Me)." Bad choice; it makes Tracheotomy Boy sound way too Up With People. Obligatory Family & Friends shot, then the judges weigh in. Simon says Anthony is trying to be sexy and it doesn't work, like if judge Randy Jackson went on "Baywatch." Paula screams at Simon.

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