Gail Berman Talks Viacom Merger, Box-Office Busts and Remakes at THR's Power Business Managers Event

The Hollywood Reporter's 2016 Entertainment Business Managers Breakfast - Gail Berman - Matt Belloni - H - 2016
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for The Hollywood Reporter

The executive producer of 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' and the upcoming 'Rocky Horror Picture Show' remake sat down with THR's Matthew Belloni at the sixth annual event.

As the entertainment industry's top business managers gathered for The Hollywood Reporter's annual breakfast in their honor, a major bit of business news broke: Viacom and CBS seem to be moving toward a merger.

It just so happens that the keynote guest at the sixth annual event was former Paramount Pictures president Gail Berman. So THR's executive editor Matt Belloni kicked off their Q&A by asking her thoughts on the merger.

“I think it’s a fantastic development,” Berman said, adding that despite not having worked in the Viacom family for nearly a decade she's still constantly fielding questions about the company. Berman has known CBS chairman Leslie Moonves her entire professional life and says him running the media empire would be “an incredible, incredible thing.”

"Will Viacom still own Paramount in five years?" Belloni asked, alluding to rumors that Chinese investors were circling the studio until the board of Sumner Redstone's National Amusements Trust changed Viacom's bylaws to block a sale. 

"If I were a betting person ... yes," Berman said, adding that a Viacom-CBS merger would make her even more sure the studio would stay in the family.

With the current film environment, specifically a 2016 chock-full of blockbuster disappointments, Belloni asked Berman what the biggest box-office problem is.

"We're not creating new things, and the audience is begging for clever new things," she said. It's tough for execs to bet on a new property when a new Transformers film seems like a sure thing, Berman acknowledged, but it seems obvious to outsiders that spending $100 million on a flop isn't a win for anyone. "Turning this large freighter around is so difficult," she said.

Switching gears, Belloni and Berman talked about the importance of creating a brand as endorsements that used to be considered "unseemly" are now in high demand. 

While casting the upcoming TV remake of Rocky Horror Picture Show, which airs Oct. 20 on Fox, Berman said they initially considered digital stars for the roles to capitalize on their internet fan bases. “Most of them couldn’t cut it,” she said. So instead she cast stars like Victoria Justice and Christina Milian who are “enormously talented but had a huge social presence.”

She said broadcast networks may be swimming upstream but can still "galvanize an audience" in a way no other distributors can. They need to be new, clever and different to thrive, she said, and the recent live television trend (NBC's Grease Live and The Wiz Live, for example) is a smart way to do it.

“I think there’s an insatiable desire for content,” Berman said. “The bubble is how we pay for it. Content costs never level off.”

Berman said there’s no such thing as too much content, even when you include off-air properties. Her husband still regularly hounds friends to watch The Wire, nearly a decade after the hit HBO series went off the air. “Sooner or later, you’ll not want to see us socially or you’ll watch it,” she said.

She told the crowd of business managers there are two types of projects they should tell writers to pursue: closed-ended procedurals and half-hour family comedies. 

"Do you think we'll see more Buffy?" Belloni asked. "I hope so," Berman said. "I would love that. It's really up to Joss." (Your move, Whedon.)

The sixth annual event was held at Cut in the Beverly Wilshire Hotel and sponsored by City National Bank.