Tantamount, BermanBraun pilots lead the way

TV vets David E. Kelley, Dick Wolf and Jerry Bruckheimer all have new projects in the works, but it’s two rookie shingles that are really flying high this pilot season.

Tantamount and BermanBraun, which both launched just two years ago, have quickly become the producers to watch this year.

The two production entities invested heavily this development cycle in multi-camera laffers, and that emphasis has paid off. With a squadron of sitcoms in the works, Tantamount and BermanBraun landed more pilot orders than any other production shingle this season.

“We are definitely the beneficiaries,” says Tantamount’s Eric Tannenbaum of the industry’s shift back toward traditional sitcoms. “Our business is cyclical, and it took people a while to catch up. But this is the place where people are hedging their bets right now.”

Indeed, the continued success of CBS’ “Two and a Half Men” (which Tannenbaum helped develop as an exec producer) and “The Big Bang Theory” — both of which are close to securing multiple-year pickups from the Eye — have shifted the networks back to searching for more multi-cam yuks.

The sour economy has also lured nets and producers back to the form: Not only are multi-cam comedies more economical to produce, but beleaguered viewers are looking for a few more laughs in their lives, and are responding to the genre’s more mainstream, universal tones.

That swing couldn’t have come at a better time for Tantamount and BermanBraun. Both companies were formed within weeks of each other in 2007, but what would have been their first full development season was sidelined by the Writers Guild strike.

Now, with the calendar back on track, this year’s big winner in terms of sheer volume appears to be Tantamount, which has scored an astounding six pilot orders (nearly 10% of the 66 overall across the four major networks).

But BermanBraun is having quite a busy year as well: The company landed four pilot orders — and a fifth, rolled-over space-themed drama “Virtuality,” is now being re-developed at Fox.

It’s probably no coincidence that both companies are run by executive producers who have spent time as top network and studio execs. Both have been able to quickly tap into primetime needs — having developed close relations with network developers through the years.

“The people at the networks have a long history and relationship with us,” Tannenbaum says. “Hopefully they trust us and believe that when we get behind something, we’re selling something good.”

A partnership among former Sony TV topper Tannenbaum; his wife, Kim, (a one-time Sony exec); and “Arrested Development” creator Mitch Hurwitz, Tantamount is helping bolster Eric Tannenbaum’s reputation as one of the best sellers in the business.

“This year exceeded our expectations by 100%,” Tannenbaum says. “Fortunately we’re in a position where we can attract great talent, and ultimately for me, I can’t sell something if I don’t believe in it. If I do, there’s no question when we’re passionate about something, we’re very tenacious. We’re selling good stuff, and people who are buying and picking up projects like what we have.”

After his run at Sony, Tannenbaum launched Artists Television Group — the small-screen arm of Mike Ovitz’s short-lived management company — as its head. Tannenbaum was hugely successful at putting shows on the air, but parent AMG didn’t ultimately have the funds to cover those shows’ deficits when they didn’t last beyond a season.

The Tannenbaums later moved to Warner Bros., where their credits include megahit “Two and a Half Men.” When that deal expired, the duo hooked up with Hurwitz and moved to Sony Pictures TV, where they signed a three-year pact worth more than $3 million per year.

At the time, Variety said the announcement would “likely end up as one of the biggest TV pairings of the year” — and Tannenbaum compared the new company to 1980s hitmakers Witt-Thomas-Harris, which was also run by both a writer and non-writing producers.

Tantamount’s slate includes the U.S. version of U.K. hit “AbFab,” which has Kathryn Hahn and Kristen Johnston starring in the adaptation for Fox; ABC’s “The Bridget Show,” starring Lauren Graham; CBS’ “Happiness Isn’t Everything,” with Jason Biggs in the lead role; and three additional laffers at ABC (starring Anita Renfroe), CBS (“Waiting to Die”) and NBC (from scribe Justin Adler).

While the volume is stretching Tantamount’s partners to the limit, Tannenbaum says he’s not concerned about having to produce too many projects at once. With so many pilots in the works, the opportunity for Tantamount to strike gold is greater, he notes.

” ‘Two and a Half Men’ came out of nowhere,” he says. “In a land where there is opportunity, this is the place where people are hedging their bets right now.”

Like Tantamount, BermanBraun — run by ex-Fox Entertainment prexy (and Paramount film exec) Gail Berman and former ABC TV Entertainment Chairman Lloyd Braun — has landed most of its pilot orders in the multi-cam sitcom arena.

“It’s about the economy in two ways,” says Gene Stein, who was recently upped to head of TV at BermanBraun. “They’re more affordable, and in these hard times everyone had to think of smart ways to produce. And, the audience is looking for shows that feel good, which is why you’re seeing this resurgence. We can do multi-camera shows that still feel fresh.”

BermanBraun focused much of its attention on comedy development this season, and even quietly nurtured the Adam Carolla starrer “Ace in the Hole,” which was penned on spec by Carolla and Kevin Hench. That ultimately paid off with a pilot order from the Eye.

Also at CBS, BermanBraun is behind “Accidentally on Purpose,” which stars Jenna Elfman as a movie critic who gets pregnant; and “The Karenskys,” a family comedy from Linwood Boomer.

Boomer originally developed “Karenskys” at the Eye 10 years ago, when Stein was still a CBS exec and Berman was head of Regency TV, where Boomer ultimately produced “Malcolm in the Middle” instead.

All three of those comedies are co-productions with CBS Paramount. BermanBraun, which sealed a three-year, $6 million first-look deal with NBC Universal in 2007, has one pilot at the Peacock: the medical drama “Mercy.”

Of course, pilot orders are just half the battle — and whether Tantamount and BermanBraun can deliver on that early promise remains to be seen. Although much of their first full crop of pilots revolves around multi-cam laffers, their early series come from different genres.

The first show to come out of Tantamount, the animated laffer “Sit Down, Shut Up,” bows on Fox next month. As for BermanBraun, neither of its first two shows, the ABC gamer “Duel” and NBC reality skein “America’s Toughest Jobs,” did much ratings business.

Meanwhile, a handful of other shingles also have multiple pilots in the works as well.

Warner Bros. TV-based Wonderland Sound and Vision has the hour-longs “Limelight” at ABC and “Human Target” at Fox, while its partnership with Bruckheimer TV has yielded an untitled drama at ABC and “Miami Trauma” at CBS.

Imagine TV is partnered with 20th Century Fox TV on Fox’s “Maggie Hill,” and with Universal Media Studios for the Peacock’s remake of “Parenthood.” CBS Par-based Katalyst has the Eye pilot “Good Girls” and CW’s “Beautiful Life.”

ABC Studios-based Mark Gordon Co. is behind the Alphabet’s “Empire State” and CBS’ “House Rules.” And Alloy Entertainment has turned its book franchise “Vampire Diaries” into a CW drama pilot, while its “Gossip Girl” has led to an untitled spin-off at the network.

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