Laff leader ankles UPN

Comedy VP leaving to co-found Axelrod/Edwards Co.

UPN senior VP of comedy development Kelly Edwards is ankling the netlet after four years to partner with veteran television producer Jonathan Axelrod in a Paramount-based venture.

Edwards’ departure comes as UPN topper Dean Valentine appears to have formally decided not to replace recently departed entertainment division prexy Tom Nunan for the foreseeable future. Valentine will instead serve as the net’s de facto entertainment chief.

As for Edwards, she’ll begin her new gig as partner in the Axelrod/Edwards Co. on Monday.

“I’ve been a big fan of Jonathan’s,” she said. “Our strengths complement each other. It’s something we’ve been talking about for a long time. I’ve been approached by other people, but it never felt right.”

Paramount Network Television has extended its overall deal with the company in conjunction with Edwards’ arrival.

Axelrod said he’s been searching for a new partner for nearly a year, almost from the moment he and former partner Jamie Widdoes went their separate ways.

“This company started as a partnership, and even though I’ve had a great year alone, I’ve been looking to bring in a partner,” he said. “It took me a year to find someone I’d want to spent most of my life with.”

Axelrod said the addition of Edwards “broadens the company tremendously.”

“I developed a show with her last year and thought she was incredibly smart,” Axelrod said. “I found we had a lot in common, but I think even our difference will add to the company.”

Edwards has been working at UPN without a contract since last spring, staying at the company in part to see how Valentine would deal with Nunan’s departure. Edwards was a candidate to replace Nunan, but eventually it became clear that Valentine had no immediate plans to fill the vacancy.

At UPN, Edwards developed series such as “Girlfriends,” “The Parkers,” “Shasta McNasty” and “Dilbert.”

While Edwards was offered a new deal to stay at UPN, she ultimately decided it was time to move on.

“It’s been something that I have wanted to do for a long time,” she said. “I’ve always loved the development process, but I’ve been jealous of people a lot closer to the product. When the opportunity presented itself, I leapt at it.”

Dramatic turn

Edwards said the new gig also will allow her to work her chops in the drama arena, something she hasn’t done in years.

“I’m rabid about drama scripts that come in here,” she said.

Edwards joined UPN in 1997; prior to that, she spent six years at Fox, helping develop series such as “Living Single” and “Partners.”

It’s unclear who will replace Edwards at UPN. Insiders said Valentine has identified several candidates for the job, both internal and external.

Valentine’s own future at UPN also has been the subject of speculation in recent weeks, following his decision to sue his own network over a contract dispute ( Daily Variety, Sept. 6).

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