What do Buffy The Vampire Slayer, a wisecracking child prodigy, a rookie cop, and extraterrestrial high schoolers have in common? They're all offspring of Gail Berman, who, as head of the new Regency Television, has turned a production house pip-squeak into one of Hollywood's big boys.
Tucked away in West L.A., Regency hardly seems like competition for the likes of Disney and Sony but a downscale ethos is part of its charm. ''When [Buffy creator] Joss Whedon and I first walked through here,'' says Berman, giving a tour of her dilapidated warehouse-style digs, ''he kicked a hole and a bunch of roaches came out and we ran screaming. We knew it was the place to do Buffy.''
Not exactly your basic high-maintenance exec, Berman's one of the few who seems more concerned about her product than her perks. And this season her product looks pretty good. For Fox, Regency is producing the promising comedy Malcolm in the Middle, about a reluctant child genius, and the teen-cop drama Ryan Caulfield. And The WB picked up Regency's new hybrid alien/teen-angst drama Roswell.
Unlike big studios, which make a pack of pilots that never fly, Regency limited its production slate to those three shows, giving it a perfect batting average for the season. ''If you're digging for oil and you find it in three holes, you don't dig anymore,'' says New Regency Productions founder Arnon Milchan, who brought Berman aboard.
Berman ''sniffs out good projects,'' says WB exec VP Jordan Levin. ''She put Buffy and Roswell together and succeeds without the support of a $100 million budget a testament to her unique ability.''
''We don't look at who's the flavor of the day,'' says Berman, who began her career as a Broadway producer (Hurlyburly) before moving to L.A. to head up the Sandollar TV production company. ''We're not the big guy, so we have to get there before anyone else.''
There are drawbacks to being small, of course. Take Roswell. Though Regency had the rights to Melinda Metz's Roswell High book series, Berman reached out to Twentieth Century Fox TV president Sandy Grushow for creative help. The show was initially developed for Fox, but the network wanted to overhaul it before giving it the green light. The WB wanted it as is, but Grushow didn't want to alienate his sister net by selling it to a competitor. Regency sweated it out as politics took priority over product. Fortunately, Twentieth got The WB to commit to a full season (and a post-Dawson's Creek slot), which made it less painful to take the show away from Fox.
So what's next on Regency's roster? A potential CBS mid-season drama about firefighters, cops, and paramedics (St. Michael's Crossing), plus a mission to double its output. ''We have no plans beyond that,'' says Milchan, adding ''Does Gail have a sister?''