NEW YORK — Warner Bros. lost more than a steady supplier of hit movies when Arnon Milchan’s New Regency Prods. left for the Fox lot two years ago. The Time Warner studio is now also missing out on TV shows from the hottest boutique producer in network television, Regency TV.
Formed in April 1998, and led by prexy Gail Berman, Regency has placed an amazing three series on the broadcast networks’ fall skeds, outpacing larger players such as Studios USA.
Last week at the network upfront presentations, Fox announced it will pick up both “Ryan Caulfield” and “Malcolm in the Middle” from Regency.
Though Warner Bros. no longer has an ownership stake in New Regency’s productions, the company’s WB broadcast netlet has pinned considerable hope on Regency’s “Roswell” — so much so that the netlet has ordered a full season of 22 episodes of the teen sci-fi drama.
Berman’s imprint on the networks’ fall skeds doesn’t end there. In her previous job as president and CEO of Sandollar Television, she brought the teen hit “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” to the weblet, which will add the “Buffy” spinoff “Angel” to its fall lineup. Berman has exec producer credits on both shows.
As a producer, Berman was known for her fierce emotional attachment to her projects. It’s this trait that’s helped Regency to succeed so soon, according to colleagues.
“Gail is really a force of nature,” said Dana Walden, exec VP of drama for 20th Century Fox TV, which is co-producing “Roswell” with Regency.
“She was a tireless champion for ‘Roswell,’ ” Walden added. “In such a crowded marketplace, if you blink, and think that a project will take care of itself, you lose out. Gail never does that.”
Joss Whedon credits Berman’s enthusiasm over “Buffy” for getting his show on the WB.
“She was connected to it emotionally,” Whedon said. “That’s what you desperately need.”
For her part, Berman passes the credit for Regency’s fall season hat trick to her small cadre of development people: Maggie Murphy (drama), Tracy Katsky (comedy) and Jon Katzman (longform and miniseries).
“We’re obviously way smaller than other places, so we can’t compete in the volume business. So, we’re in the passion business,” Berman declared. “If you don’t believe in the material, there’s no sense making it.”
Berman’s “incredible taste in writers” is key to her development track record, according to Susanne Daniels, prexy of entertainment for the WB.
Negotiating for ‘Caulfield’
For example, Regency’s “Ryan Caulfield” was created by James DeMonaco and Kevin Fox, the writing team behind “The Negotiator.” That film’s director, F. Gary Gray, helmed the “Ryan Caulfield” pilot.
Talent of this caliber has helped Berman’s programs garner critical praise for adding substance to the usually disposable teen show format. The atypical police drama “Caulfield” centers on the coming-of-age of a 19-year-old rookie cop.
“One of the things we struggle with is taking a traditional franchise and turning it on its ear with a younger attitude,” Berman explained. ” ‘Ryan Caulfield’ tells the story of a young man who hardly knows anything about life who’s put into life-threatening and confusing situations. This is not ’21 Jump Street’ or ‘The Mod Squad’ in any way.”
‘Buffy’ the role model
Whedon said that before strong female characters became commonplace in primetime, Berman championed “Buffy” because she believed teen girls sorely needed a role model.
“She’s very into the feminist message,” Whedon emphasized. “She knew what this show could do for the self-image of teen-age girls.”
Berman said that her inspiration to infuse TV shows with a strong point of view comes not from classic TV shows or films, but rather from the theater.
Fresh out of the U. of Maryland, Berman produced Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” in Washington, D.C. The show soon moved to Broadway, where it was a smash for 2-1/2 years.
Berman also produced the Tony Award-winners “Hurlyburly” and “Blood Knot.”
She moved from theater to TV production for a change of pace.
“I achieved my goals early and had to make new goals,” she said.
Keeping Fox happy
After spending her entire adult life as a producer, Berman’s new role as Regency’s TV chief exec means she has something new to keep in mind: the goals of the Fox Entertainment Group.
“There’s encouragement to bring products to Fox, but there are no obligations,” Berman said.
Berman cites “Roswell,” about 16-year-old aliens who go unnoticed among the Roswell High School population, as an example of Fox’s willingness to pass a pilot to another network.
Of course, Fox — as co-producer of the series — will benefit financially if the show’s a hit for the WB.
Now that Regency has achieved such success for the fall, the company will see if it can continue its hot streak through the winter. Regency has a midseason pilot in development for CBS, “St. Michael’s Crossing,” a drama about firefighters, cops and paramedics working together under one roof.
Any indie production outfit would envy Regency’s initial performance, but the WB’s Daniels said success won’t go to Berman’s head.
“She’s really down to earth, which I can’t say about everyone in the business,” Daniels declared. “She doesn’t wear that Hollywood mask.”