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Kissinger inks on at U to head TV comedy dept.

In the first step toward a restructuring of Universal TV’s comedy development department, the studio known for its distinctive dramas has tapped Disney TV veteran David Kissinger to lead the effort to produce more sitcoms.

“This is the single most important decision I will probably ever make at this studio,” said Universal TV president Ken Solomon. “Everybody here realizes the importance of strengthening our comedy operations to balance the presence we have in dramas.”

Kissinger, who succeeds Maria Grasso as U’s top comedy exec, has been named senior VP of comedy development, reporting to Solomon. Grasso joined Warner Bros. Television in a similar capacity last month.

One of Kissinger’s first tasks will be to help U brass “restructure and redefine” the studio’s comedy development operation, said Solomon. Without elaborating, Solomon hinted that more execs specializing in comedy development and production would be signing on with U in the near future.

At present, Kissinger oversees a team comprising of Kathryn Busby, director of comedy development, and Larry Weiss, executive director of writer development.

Kissinger’s appointment comes on the heels of a slew of studio development pacts with such sought-after comedy writer/producers as Carrie Fisher (Daily Variety, Aug. 4), Ralph Farquhar (“Moesha”), Maya Forbes (“The Larry Sanders Show,” “The Naked Truth”), Elaine Pope (“Seinfeld”), Mark Driscoll (“Ellen”) plus such non-traditional signings as pop-gospel star Kirk Franklin and producer Emilio Estefan, Jr.

While U has long been known as the home of stylish dramas — “Columbo,” “The Rockford Files,” “Miami Vice” and more recently “Law & Order” and “New York Undercover” — it has lagged the other majors in producing successful sitcoms, which generate far more money in the long run in syndication than most hourlong dramas.

Coupled with Kissinger’s hire, Solomon said he thinks the studio’s fortunes in the comedy arena began to turn around last month, when ABC at the last minute picked up U’s “Something So Right” for the upcoming season. The family-oriented sitcom was dropped after its first season by NBC.

Kissinger comes to Universal after a five-year stint with Walt Disney TV, where he most recently served as senior VP of comedy development from 1994-97.

During his tenure, Kissinger was involved in the development and production of more than two dozen comedy series, including “Home Improvement,” “Ellen,” “Boy Meets World,” “Unhappily Ever After” and the short-lived cult-fave “Bakersfield, P.D.” He also supervised the development of two new Disney sitcoms for the upcoming season: ABC’s “Teen Angel” and CBS’ midseason “Style and Substance.”

Most recently, Kissinger served as a consultant to 20th Century Fox Television, where he helped manage the production of two drama pilots that made it to the fall primetime sked: ABC’s “Nothing Sacred” and Fox’s “413 Hope Street.”

Prior to joining Disney in 1992, the Yale grad worked as a journalist and lawyer. He spent two years as a staff reporter on the TV beat for Variety, and was also a contributor to Rolling Stone, the New York Observer and other publications.

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