Jumping ship ain’t easy

Fox, Par blame each other for Berman leak

In an age of carefully stage-managed corporate announcements, the news that Gail Berman was jumping from Fox to Paramount spread via word of mouth faster than a fax from corporate communications to legal affairs.

Both sides blame the other for the leak; both say they had nothing to gain and everything to lose by letting the story get out.

Here’s what’s known: Berman broke the news to News Corp. prexy Peter Chernin over dinner on the night of March 21. By then her talks with Par were at an advanced stage, and presumably she had confidence a deal would be reached.

By noon the next day, the news was bouncing around the halls, but top execs at both companies say they learned of Berman’s exit from reports on the Web.

Par was in talks to bring Berman on as No. 2 to Brad Grey, but the deal was not done. Fox was about to be a network without a chief, but with an obvious heir, FX topper Peter Liguori, ready in the wings. (He got the job officially two days later, on March 24.)

By the afternoon, Par issued a hasty statement saying, “We hope to conclude the discussions shortly.”

If an irked Chernin leaked the Berman news, as Par execs suspect, he may have increased his negotiating leverage with Berman, whose contract runs out in June.

If Par execs leaked the news, as Fox execs suspect, Grey sends the message that he and Viacom co-prexy Tom Freston plan to shake up the studio, and no one’s position is sacred.

Grey’s hands-off approach to announcing Berman’s hire may be less about agenda than about personal M.O.

Other spinmeisters note intra-conglom moves — this one between News Corp. and Viacom — are always difficult to orchestrate, especially when the shift is between two separate, and mutually suspicious, wings of the industry — TV and film.

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