David Gerber has officially left the disbanded MGM Worldwide Television Group and established his own independent operation, The Gerber Co., taking with him all of the studio’s current prime time development.

The move, anticipated since last spring (Daily Variety, June 22), became official yesterday. Gerber is said to be in negotiations to bring some staffers with him into the new venture, although it will clearly be a lean operation, and several of those who may join him remain contractually bound to MGM at this time.

In an interview Gerber said he’s in discussions regarding outside sources of financing but has no plans to hang his shingle at a major studio. Citing the need to keep overhead down due to current TV economics, Gerber said tying himself to a studio would be like “a racehorse with weights on his legs.”

Ed Gradinger, who Gerber brought in a year ago as president of MGM/UA TV, will serve as a consultant to the independent company. MGM, meanwhile, is expected to continue its distribution activities under president Sid Cohen, servicing whatever product remains (such as “In the Heat of the Night,” already sold into syndication) and perhaps dabbling in first-run syndication.

Toward that end, it’s speculated MGM/UA VP of development Hank Cohen may remain at the studio to supervise development and production for the distribution arm, though MGM wants to avoid the sort of deficits that drove it out of the networkbusiness in the first place.

MGM has been gradually phasing out positions in the network area since last June as production wrapped on various projects. The company had 50 to 60 staffers before the layoffs began, but currently employs only the staff on the CBS hour “In the Heat of the Night,” with all prime time material assumed by Gerber.

Projects coming with Gerber include TV movies, miniseries and pilots, among them a two-hour Civil War-themed CBS pilot that will begin shooting later this month in Atlanta. Roger Young will direct from a script by Georgia Jeffries and Richard Fielder.

Gerber also has an NBC pilot commitment with filmmaker Wes Craven, who exec produced the web’s short-lived MGM series “Nightmare Cafe,” and three longform projects in active script development: “Hawaii,” an NBC miniseries being written by Fielder; “Black Summer,” a telefilm scripted by Bill Nolan; and “Countdown,” the story of the first manned expedition to Mars, written by Guerdon Trueblood.

Gerber served as chairman-CEO at MGM TV since November 1988, joining the company as president of the then newly-merged MGM and UA television units in July 1986. Prior to that he ran his own production company, first at Columbia Pictures TV (then known as Screen Gems) and then MGM, producing such series as “Police Story” and “Police Woman.” He also worked as exec VP in charge of TV production for Columbia.

Uncertainty plagued MGM throughout Gerber’s tenure, with Frank Rothman, Ted Turner, Kirk Kerkorian (and Lee Rich), Qintex’sChristopher Skase, Giancarlo Parretti and Alan Ladd Jr. all running the studio at one point or another during his six-year tenure.

Even when Gerber signed a multiyear contract extension in September 1991, there was speculation that Pathe Communications was looking to sell the TV division, as well as reports that Gerber and Ladd discussed trying to buy the studio in an effort to salvage it.

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