During her career so far, Gail Berman has reinvented herself a number of times, from a wunderkind theater producer straight out of college to a TV producer and an executive running TV production companies like Buffy the Vampire Slayer maker Sandollar TV, a Big 4 broadcast network with Fox, and a movie studio with Paramount. Along the way, she has launched a string of companies — she was the founding president of Malcolm In the Middle studio Regency Television, a co-venture between New Regency and Fox TV Studios; a founding partner with Lloyd Braun in BermanBraun; and also started The Jackal Group in partnership with the Fox Network Group.
With such extensive startup experience, it was probably not surprising that when Fox Entertainment CEO Charlie Collier looked for a production unit to go with the newly independent “startup network” Fox, he turned to Berman, who launched and is running SideCar Content Accelerator. Fully owned by Fox Entertainment, SideCar is developing and producing/co-producing scripted and unscripted shows for Fox as well as other networks. Those projects include Royalties, a musical comedy starring and executive produced by Darren Criss, which SideCar is producing for Qjuibi. The company’s development slate includes drama The Perfect Couple, live-action comedy Mr. Black and animated comedy Saloon — all for Fox — and an animated comedy in talks at Adult Swim.
In an interview with Deadline, Berman lays out the plan for SideCar and its relationship with the Fox network, as well as recently launched Fox Alternative Entertainment studio and Fox’s newly acquired animation house Bento Box. Berman discusses SideCar’s business model and programming goals, including partnering with other studios and pursuing talent deals, as well as trying to find a holiday franchise and a hit game show format for Fox.
DEADLINE: How did the name SideCar come about? Are you a sidecar to Fox?
BERMAN: As Charlie described what he was looking for us to do, I was listening to him, and I said, it sounds to me like you’ve got the mothership, which is the network, and you want me to go alongside. So I just had that image, and as we started to talk about what it could be called, it just popped into my head. I think it really describes us going along. The company is 100 percent owned by Fox, so everything is aligned. Our interests are aligned, and we’re here to do our best to service the needs of the network and then some.
As I like to describe it, it’s a 70/30 — 70 percent network, 30 percent other, and that other could be that the network didn’t like something that we had and we took it out, or we have a passion project — we found a book or something and know that it’s not right for the network, but it might be right for someone else.
DEADLINE: Your relationship with Fox, does the network have first look on your development?
BERMAN: No, it’s much less formal than that. Our goal is to provide programming to the network. That’s what’s in our heads every day. [Fox Entertainment president] Michael Thorn is setting the agenda of the kind of things they’re looking for, and we’re out trying to look for those things.
What we’re not is, we’re not an overall deal. We are here to be a partner with them, and we know that there’s going to come something across the transom that Gail Berman goes, oh, I like that, and it’s not for Fox, and then, we’ll take it where it’s suitable to take it. But the goal and the win-win is being able to give the network what they’re looking for.
DEADLINE: How much of your slate will originate from you and how much will come from Fox? Fox executives have talked about working directly with talent. If they buy a project from a writer with no studio attached, will it be done through SideCar?
BERMAN: Yeah; we are the facilitator for them. We are trying to have our own identity but also making sure that their needs are met. I haven’t done this kind of thing before, which is why I liked it when Charlie proposed it. I like being in the mix with them, and I like being supportive of them.
DEADLINE: Jeff Davis recently signed an overall deal with Fox Entertainment. Will his development be handled through your company?
BERMAN: Maybe, maybe not. It could depend on if we come up with a good piece of IP that he likes. If someone else does, it might go through someone else, and we might partner with them.
So, there’s all kinds of flexible ways we can look at the business. Nothing has to come through us. As I like to say to people, a good way into getting on the air at Fox is to go through SideCar, but it is certainly not the only way.
DEADLINE: Beyond development, what are SideCar’s production capabilities? Do you deficit finance or will you have to bring in a co-production partner?
BERMAN: Well, for example, we’re doing a 10-episode, 100-minute Quibi show right now called Royalties that stars Darren Criss, and we’re producing that in-house. We have the capability of doing that. For something much larger, we would probably partner with somebody, or we would bring in some production entity that would help us do that.
DEADLINE: Like what?
BERMAN: Some individuals that could get us up and running in a slightly bigger way than we are right now. The goal is to keep it manageable, not to build a big infrastructure. That’s not my goal. I’d like to partner with people, and they can be the lead. I’m very comfortable with that. Most of the studios around town that I’ve spoken to are interested in that, and most of those guys are folks I know and like and have worked with in some capacity during the course of my career, so I have no doubt that we will partner with some people.
Right now, we’re working on a project with Universal Television. They have a project set up at Fox that Sarah Michelle Gellar is involved with (Other People’s Houses), and they’ve asked us to come in to work on that with them, so we’re going to do that. It’s fun to have the flexibility to work with a lot of folks I’ve known over the years and enjoy working with.
DEADLINE: Starting this coming season, all Fox series from outside studios are co-productions with Fox Entertainment. Will SideCar be taking over the co-production part? Prodigal Son, for example, is a co-production between Warner Bros TV and Fox Entertainment. Are you the entity that will be representing Fox?
BERMAN: Absolutely not. No, that’s Fox. That existed before we existed.
DEADLINE: What about going forward, would that be the case? You are teaming with Universal TV on the Sarah Michelle Gellar project.
BERMAN: It might well be the case, or it might not for a variety of reasons that may not make sense when you’re talking about it in generalities, but could make very specific sense when you’re talking about it in deal terms.
DEADLINE: Does that mean that If an outside studio, like Universal, wants an active producing partner, you would come on board. If it’s mostly passive co-producing participation, it would be Fox Entertainment?
BERMAN: When you get me, you get an active person, so one way or another, me and my team are going to be involved, that’s part of why I think Charlie reached out to me. We have a really seamless relationship with the network right now, which is really pleasant and fun. We’re meeting with them on a weekly basis, and we’re talking to them on a daily basis, so hopefully, it will be a very positive symbiotic relationship. We’ll see.
DEADLINE: Currently Fox’s schedule is pretty drama heavy with a renewed focus on animated comedy. Is your development mirroring Fox’s programming direction?
BERMAN: It is. We are very active in the animation development for them. We sold our first animated project to them called Saloon, so we’re excited about the potential of that. We hope that, if it’s a successful script, it’s something we could then perhaps take to Bento [Box], so we would all be in business together. That’s how I see it in my head. Charlie may see it differently, but that’s how I see it in my head.
We’re very interested in animation. As we like to say, our No. 1 priority, our No. 2 priority, our No. 3 priority is animation, animation, animation. We’ve sold a number of dramas. We closed a deal on Mr. Black, a great comedy format from Australia. The network loves it, and we love it; we got it in a pretty competitive situation.
So, we’ll be doing some comedy development, but right now, the heaviest development has been animation and drama.
DEADLINE: When any of these projects get to pilot stage, will you be producing those pilots? Or will you bring in a studio to co-produce? What about the series pickup stage?
BERMAN: Depends on what the relationship is and with whom the relationship is. My guess is we will try to do the stuff that we’ve developed independently ourselves as pilots. I think what the network would like is for us to come in as co-producing partners when the show goes to series.
So, it’ll be a little bit of a mixed bag, I think, but we will have the ability to produce pilots that are coming from us independently.
DEADLINE: Will SideCar be making talent deals?
BERMAN: No, I don’t think we’ll be making talent deals. We’re doing a lot of writer commitments, and our development will be along those lines, a much more traditional way, but I wouldn’t rule it out. I wouldn’t say, oh, my gosh, that’s a piece of talent I must have, and we’re going to go after it. But maybe we would go after it with the network, hand-in-hand, just depends what it is. Right now, we’re going a fairly traditional route.
DEADLINE: That includes acquiring IP, correct?
BERMAN: Yes, we have an IP scout in New York that’s working for SideCar. The network also has that, but this is separate and apart. It’s an IP marketplace right now, everyone is on the hunt for that good book or good piece of magazine article or whatever, and we, too, are definitely looking.
DEADLINE: Any plans for acquiring small libraries or partnering with companies that own IP? One of the downsides of being a startup is you don’t have a library.
BERMAN: Right. We have no IP. As we begin to put a real business plan and real goals together, looking out over the next two to five years, I think those are certainly things that we would look at, but that’s a little bit long-term planning.
I certainly hope to grow the company, there are a lot of different ways to do that, but right now, I’ve got my eye on the prize, and that is delivering to the network, hopefully, great product, ambitious product, fun stuff that pops, the kind of thing that they’re looking for.
DEADLINE: Any of the writers that you have long relationship with that you have brought to SideCar?
BERMAN: Yes, people that I’ve worked with in the past that are coming back to work with me, and [SideCar EVP Development and Production] Hend [Baghdady] has some people that she’s worked with in the animation space when she ran ADHD for Fox.
We have AOK, which we moved from Jackal over to SideCar, so we’ll continue in the exploration of animation in that space as much as we can. We love our AOK, so please go to the YouTube channel and become a subscriber, but we are using it as an incubator, and it’s really great what we’re doing. We’re having a lot of fun, and we’re working hard, so hopefully, all great things will come out of that.
DEADLINE: Plays, musicals have always been your passion — you recently did The Rocky Horror Picture Show for Fox. Would you develop any stagings or live events for the network at SideCar?
BERMAN: I hope so. I think we would have a rocking good time doing some of that stuff for the network, and I’m looking forward to it. They have particular needs and scheduling needs, and we would certainly like to be the ones to meet them.
DEADLINE: Holiday programming has become a priority for Fox. Do you have anything in that area?
BERMAN: We have an idea for a terrific holiday special for, obviously not this holiday season, but a year from then, and we’re meeting with some folks about it, so I’m excited about some stuff that we’ve been talking about. I haven’t had the ability to do those kind of specials in a long time, and I like them, so it’d be fun to figure out some things that maybe could be perennials and long-term business opportunities.
DEADLINE: You have an alternative department. How is it working with Fox’s new in-house production studio, Fox Alternative Entertainment?
BERMAN: We’re actually working very closely with [Fox Alternative president] Rob [Wade] and [EVP] Corie [Henson]. For example, they would like to find a game show for the network. We have put together a think tank in our offices, a group of professional people who do game shows, or as I like to call it, the game show task force, who are working on (concepts) we can present to Fox. Then we might be able to all work together. But when I say we’re specifically here to meet their needs, I’m not kidding.
DEADLINE: What are your goals? How many pilots and series would you want to get on Fox next season?
BERMAN: I’d just like to deliver them a hit. That’s the best way I know how to answer that question.
DEADLINE: Like you have done so many times before, you are starting from scratch. How would you describe this stage in your career?
BERMAN: I’ve done that a lot. I don’t mind starting a new company. There are new adventures every time I turn around, and I thought I had one more in me when Charlie approached me about this.
I have the luxury of having had a lot of different opportunities, and some of them, the most extraordinary things to have happened to somebody, to a young woman who’s now grown old in the business, and I’m grateful for all of them. It’s been an incredible ride; I’ve been really fortunate and really lucky.