Gail Berman

Gail Berman has set a wide-ranging partnership with Fox Networks Group to launch a production entity, the Jackal Group, that will develop digital and TV projects for outlets across the 21st Century Fox TV and digital spectrum. The deal also calls for Jackal to develop projects in the live event and legit arena, harking back to Berman’s roots in theater.

Deal puts Berman back in business on the Fox lot, where she was based from 1998 through 2005 during her tenure as head of Regency TV and her five-year run as the Fox network’s president of entertainment. Berman will have an equity stake in the joint venture.

Jackal Group will be governed by a board comprising Berman, Fox Networks Group CEO Peter Rice and chief operating officer Randy Freer. The company moniker is a mash-up of her son and daughter’s first names, Jacob and Alex — which seemed appropriate to Berman as jackals are part of the fox family.

“Peter has given me the opportunity to build a company that works in all areas that I like to work in,” Berman told Variety. “I’m flattered and I’m humbled and I’m overwhelmed.”

News of the joint venture ends speculation about the possibility of Berman returning to the job that she held at Fox Broadcasting from 2000-2005. The network’s entertainment chief post has been open for a month, ever since Kevin Reilly set his exit plan in motion on the heels of an underwhelming upfront in May.

In reality, Berman was not believed by insiders to have had any serious conversations about returning to her old job. Sources close to the situation said it didn’t seem a fit with Berman’s desire to focus on a more entrepreneurial producing play.

The smart money on the Fox lot is predicting that some kind of restructuring is in the works that will put oversight of Fox Broadcasting under the purview of Dana Walden and Gary Newman, the duo who have had a successful partnership running the 20th Century Fox TV studio for 15 years.

But sources caution that no news is imminent on the post-Reilly front at Fox, which suggests that any talk of restructuring and rejiggering reporting lines is taking some time. In fact, Fox is seen as unlikely to have a Reilly successor in place by the time the network mounts its presentation on July 20 at the summer Television Critics Assn. press tour in Beverly Hills.

For Berman, launch of Jackal Group comes about six months after she ended her successful partnership in the BermanBraun banner with former ABC and Yahoo exec Lloyd Braun. Rice reached out to her shortly after her exit and the conversations that led to Jackal flowed from there. Since ending the BermanBraun venture, Berman has been working as a producer with Keshet Intl. on the USA Network miniseries “Dig,” now lensing in Israel.

“This new joint venture will provide (Fox Networks Group) with yet another source for quality programming, supplementing our already established and proven studio pipeline backed by the industry’s most talented creative executives, and will better position us to meet the increasing demand for quality content,” Rice said in a statement.

Rice’s support for Berman’s interest in working in theater, where she got her start as a producer, was a key incentive for Berman to partner with Fox. Not to mention the array of domestic and international outlets in the Fox universe. Partnering with Fox Networks Group will give her an entrée to dealmaking and idea-generating that she would not otherwise have as an outside indie producer.

Berman said the company will be hiring several staff execs, including creative execs for scripted and unscripted programming as well as a dedicated business affairs exec. She’s not sure yet whether Jackal will have offices on the Fox lot in Century City, but one way or another she will be based in Los Angeles. Berman would not comment on the specifics of the bankroll available to Jackal Group but it is significant.

“The company has done everything to give me the resources I’ll need to succeed,” she said.

Working at Fox again is akin to “coming home,” Berman added. “I would like to say how grateful I am to Peter for this amazing opportunity.”

Berman ran a somewhat similar joint venture at Fox in the late 1990s as the head of Regency TV, a partnership of what was then News Corp. and Arnold Milchan’s New Regency Enterprises. On Berman’s watch, Regency TV developed “Malcolm in the Middle,” a sitcom hit for Fox that led to her landing the network programming job.

Before Regency TV, Berman was a producer who helped convince screenwriter Joss Whedon to turn his 1992 feature “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” into a television series — one that wound up becoming a defining hit for the WB Network in the late 1990s. Whedon has often mentioned his interest in doing a stage version of “Buffy.” Might that be on Berman’s plate of theatrical projects, given that “Buffy” is a 20th Century Fox TV property?

Berman laughed and emphasized how wet the ink still is on the Jackal deal. “I might have to talk to Joss about that one,” she said.

 

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