Latenight host signs two-year deal with studio

Craig Ferguson is headed back to primetime, this time as a producer.

The host of CBS’ “Late Late Show” and former “Drew Carey Show” regular has inked a two-year overall deal to develop programming for CBS Paramount Network Television via his newly christened Green Mountain West banner. He’s hired Tracey Pakosta, former exec VP of comedy development at the now-defunct WB, as his partner.

As part of the pact, CBS Entertainment has a first-look option on any projects Green Mountain West develops.

Ferguson’s deal makes him the latest latenight player to jump into the primetime development gang.

David Letterman’s Worldwide Pants has the best track record of getting skeins on the nets, from NBC’s “Ed” to ABC’s upcoming “The Knights of Prosperity.”

Conan O’Brien has developed several pilots, landed a reality series on the air (2001’s “Lost”) and has a half-hour starring Andy Richter in the works for next year.

Jimmy Kimmel and Jon Stewart have also been prolific cable producers via their respective Jackhole and Busboy banners.

Only latenight power not actively developing for primetime is the king of latenight, Jay Leno. His Big Dog banner hasn’t produced any primetime series.

Ferguson, however, thinks his night job makes the move into production logical.

“One of my earliest guests was Peter Guber, who came on with (Variety editor-in-chief and ‘Sunday Morning Shootout’ co-host) Peter Bart,” Ferguson said. “They’re both savvy players, and in his first booking, Guber said to me, ‘You’ve got to form a production company. You’ll meet everyone in this job and have access to talent like nobody else.’ “

Ferguson said he waited until he was more firmly embedded as host of “Late Late Show” before approaching CBS about the idea of a production deal.

Tapping Pakosta was the next step; Ferguson said he hopes her depth of experience will help Green Mountain West lure talent.

“It was important for me to get someone who can do the job very well,” he said, adding that Nancy Josephson at Endeavor connected him with Pakosta. “It sends a message that this is not a vanity thing. It’s a proper company.”

Ferguson said he and Pakosta are developing projects largely on spec rather than trying to secure blind commitments from nets. He credits CBS supremo Leslie Moonves with that philosophy.

“He said you don’t spend five or six years in development on something,” Ferguson said. “You either say yes or no.”

As for the title of his shingle — Green Mountain West — Ferguson said it’s a tribute to Vermont, where he spends much of his time when not in Los Angeles.

“It would be very handy if Vermont were closer to L.A.,” he said.

Pakosta spent more than a decade at the WB, joining in August 1995 and leaving at the end of last year. She began as an assistant to Susanne Daniels and rose to head of comedy development.

During her run, Pakosta helped develop skeins such as “Reba,” “The Jamie Kennedy Experiment” and “What I Like About You.”

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