Harbert hangs new shingle with 2-year pact

Veteran ABC and NBC exec Ted Harbert is hanging out his shingle at 20th Century Fox TV, inking a two-year overall deal to develop and produce series projects through the studio.

Move to establish Ted Harbert Television comes barely a month after the exec left his post as head of NBC Studios as part of an overall exec shuffle at the Peacock. It also makes Harbert the second former network topper to set up shop at 20th this summer: Ex-WB Entertainment prexy Susanne Daniels inked an overall deal at the studio last month.

Harbert has been a nonwriting producer before. After leaving ABC in 1997, he signed with DreamWorks Television, working on projects such as the critically admired “It’s like, you know…” and the Arsenio Hall laffer “Arsenio.”

“The last six years, between being at DreamWorks and then NBC Studios, I learned more (about producing television) than in my first 20 years at ABC,” Harbert told Daily Variety. “I wasn’t ready to be a producer last time. Now I am.”

For 20th, the deal with Harbert gives the studio access to a seasoned exec with relationships at all of the major nets.

“Ted came in for a meeting and really impressed us with his passion and energy and the depths of his relationships,” said 20th prexy Gary Newman. “This is a guy who could not be more ready to move into the producing ranks. He’s got that fire in the belly to be more deeply involved in the projects he puts together — more so than anyone we’ve come across.”

Development hire looming

Two-year pact, which has an option for a third year, calls for Harbert to hire a development exec. Harbert is expected to officially announce his pick for the post later this month.

THT has also already lined up blind script commitments from several nets, with NBC and CBS both committing to a pair of projects and the WB OK’ing a script, according to 20th. Harbert said he also intends to work on projects for 20th’s sister web, Fox Broadcasting.

“I’ve been friends with Gail (Berman, prexy of Fox Entertainment) for a long time, and I click with Gary and Dana (Walden),” Harbert said. “They complement each other well, and it makes for a great creative atmosphere.”

Comedy will likely be an early focus of THT, with Harbert saying his recent experience as a studio exec has taught him the need to come up with laffers that offer more than funny jokes.

Big ideas

“What’s important is coming up with an idea that can truly be funny, not because the jokes are good but because the characters are funny and the idea behind the show is funny,” he said.

During his four-year run at NBC Studios, Harbert helped launch skeins such as “Ed,” “Boomtown” and “Crossing Jordan,” while overseeing projects such as “Will & Grace.” Harbert’s two-decade ABC career, which saw him rise to the post of chairman of ABC Entertainment, produced such landmark skeins as “NYPD Blue,” “thirtysomething,” “Home Improvement,” “Roseanne” and “The Wonder Years” and “The Practice,” as well as short-lived but critically hailed skeins such as “My So-Called Life” and “Murder One.”

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