I guess you know your job has become unnecessary (or worse, wasn't necessary to begin with) when you're canned and then it's decided there's no need to even replace you. Jeff Wells at Hollywood Elsewhere has been covering the heck out of the story of the firing of Paramount Pictures president Gail Berman, starting with a piece linking back to a story he wrote nearly a year ago, when he received a letter from a supposed insider slamming this Hollywood Reporter piece by Anne Thompson about the challenges Berman, who came to Paramount from Fox Entertainment (so yeah, you can kinda blame her for American Idol, along with everything else), was facing eight months into her job.

Even back then, Par chief Brad Grey, who brought Berman on board before the Paramont acquisition of Dreamworks, wasn't really going all out to support Berman as she made the transition from small screen to big screen, saying in a New York Times story only that "she's working hard." Wells' insider-letter-writer, meanwhile, challenged Thompson's take that Berman was being slammed merely for being a tough, intelligent woman in a man's world, saying in part, "The artists of Hollywood are not fools. They know when they are being treated horribly. Her cruelty to artists, her disrespect and ignorance of their body of work, her padding of her own resume ... her need to use her power in unrelenting ways and then if you dislike her mask it behind 'directors and agents are sexist' ... that is the problem."

I remember reading this piece a year ago and thinking: Ouch, those are some harsh words. Of course, it's hard to know what really goes on if you're not immersed in the trenches -- the Hollywood studio system, to all appearances, operates with about as much subtlety and maturity as a junior high lunchroom. And it's true, also, that it can be tough to be a woman working in a man's world, that men can get away with a degree of brusqueness and even rudeness with colleauges that in women is dismissed as bitchiness. There are women who manage to navigate the halls of Hollywood High and still end up at the cool kids' table, but there are still a lot more men than women at the top of the heap.

Then later today, Nikki Finke scooped everyone, including Paramount, in declaring that Par would be replacing Berman in her role as studio prez with ... nobody (this story, which was live earlier, is no longer up, having been replaced by this one announcing that Par execs finally got around to getting someone in PR to crank out a press release). Oh, and the press release included the interesting little post-script that Par's co-president of production, Allison Shearmer, is also taking a hike, leaving Stacey Snider, co-chair and CEO of Dreamworks, the last woman standing.

Which means ... what exactly? When Grey brought Berman on board, there were whispers that it didn't matter much to him one way or another if Berman sank or swam; if she wildly succeeded, he could bask in the reflected glory, and if she tanked, well, it was her own fault for not learning to navigate the studio system. So was Berman let go for incompetence, or simply because Grey no longer needed her there as a buffer? Now Grey is streamlining things and will oversee things at Paramount himself, with Par and Dreamworks each having a slate of 6-8 pics a year, MTV Films/Nickelodeon Movies getting 4-6, and Paramount Vantage getting 10. Getting canned and replaced by someone better qualified for the job is one thing, but getting canned and then it being determined that, hey, turns out you didn't do much anyhow, so no need to even replace you? That's gotta sting, even in a town like Hollywood.