Hot List 2005: Josh Berman

Jul 18, 2005  •  Post A Comment

When Regency Entertainment President Robin Schwartz worked in development for NBC in the late 1990s, she often took pitch meetings with then-NBC Studios development executive Josh Berman. She recalled one pitch meeting with a writer she knew personally. When Mr. Berman, who looks much younger than his age, left the meeting briefly, the writer turned to Ms. Schwartz and asked, “Who’s the bar mitzvah boy?”

Ms. Schwartz and Mr. Berman worked together again this past development season on his crime drama “Killer Instinct,” which is set to premiere this fall. Six years after leaving the executive ranks to become a television writer, the still young-looking Mr. Berman is making a name for himself not only as a creator of new series but also as an executive producer of one of prime time’s most popular dramas, “CSI.”

“On ‘CSI’ I most enjoy writing the episodes about the craziest crimes and the oddest criminals,” Mr. Berman said. “The most memorable episodes are the ones where you remember who the bad guy is. I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be fantastic to create a show where every week the nemesis is a larger-than-life character?'”

Mr. Berman got the chance he was looking for. “Killer Instinct” follows the workings of the San Francisco police force’s deviant behavior division, which solves only the most grisly and difficult crimes.

Starting off as a comedy writer after winning an NBC writing contest in 1998 (in which he wrote a parody of Fox’s “Ally McBeal,” called “Allyn McBeal”), Mr. Berman transitioned to drama writing in 2000 after getting staffed as a lower-level executive story editor on CBS’s “CSI.”

“We were not expected to be a hit,” he said. “We were told if we could just maintain 85 percent of ‘The Fugitive’ lead-in, they would keep us on the air the whole year.”

“CSI” quickly surpassed CBS’s expectations, and Mr. Berman found himself in the perfect place to learn about producing a series.

“I was really fortunate, because the budget on the show was so tight they hired two executive producers, the creator, and then the next level on the show was executive story editor,” he said. “Because there was not the traditional midlevel producer on the show I was allowed and even encouraged to take on as much responsibility as possible. It was very much trial by fire.”

Mr. Berman worked his way up the “CSI” ranks and used his experience as a studio executive to help the show.

“Being a former executive, I completely appreciate and understand why certain notes are given,” he said, “and as a TV writer I can often communicate the intent behind certain notes.”

Though Mr. Berman has a four-year development deal with 20th Century Fox Television and “Killer Instinct” has moved into production, he is staying with “CSI” another two seasons.

“My responsibility and my contract is with ‘CSI,'” he said. “I’m fulfilling my obligation, and the truth is I love working on ‘CSI.’ It’s the greatest job in the world, but I have very mixed emotions not being part of [‘Killer Instinct’].”

Ed Zuckerman and Charlie Craig are executive producing “Instinct,” while Mr. Berman will get a “created by” credit. Usually when a show’s creator doesn’t stay with the series there is concern the show’s original vision won’t carry forward in later episodes, Ms. Schwartz said, but in Mr. Berman’s case she is not concerned.

“He’s really thought everything out about this,” she said of Mr. Berman, who has come into meetings with notebooks filled with character back story and a narrative map of the entire season. “He is so well prepared. He built a world. It really works for the show.”

Mr. Berman said he is confident “Instinct” will evolve with his point of view intact.

“It’s very hard to watch the show go on without me,” he said, “but I feel I’ve laid the best groundwork I can. The template is there, especially for a procedural, so the vision can be carried forward.”

Scouting Report

Title: Creator, “Killer Instinct”; executive producer, “CSI”

Date of birth: Dec. 20, 1970

Place of birth: Encino, Calif.

Big break: Being hired as an intern by former NBC Entertainment President Warren Littlefield after interviewing him for the Stanford business school newspaper.

Who knew? Mr. Berman received a Fulbright

Fellowship to study the history of education in Australia.