20th TV taps unit toppers

Vila, Johnson to head drama, comedy units

Twentieth Century Fox Television has drafted its starting exec lineup, putting Scott Vila and Brad Johnson on the scorecard to lead the studio’s drama and comedy departments, respectively.

Vila had been VP of drama at 20th since June 1999, while Johnson was most recently an independent producer-scribe. The two will now serve as senior veeps, reporting to 20th co-presidents Dana Walden and Gary Newman.

Wednesday’s announcement finalizes the new 20th structure for the first time under Walden and Newman, who took the studio reins last November after Sandy Grushow was upped to Fox Television Entertainment chaiman.

Despite the new team, Newman said the studio will maintain its core philosophies.

“Whereas three, four years ago the mantra was ‘get bigger fast,’ I think our mantra now is ‘quality,’ ” Newman said. “Let’s make these shows not only the best shows, but let’s make them commercially successful situations for the studio.”

Johnson replaces former comedy topper Mindy Schultheis, who ankled the studio gig to become an indie producer based at 20th (Daily Variety, June 8), while Vila has actually been running the drama department since Walden was promoted from her previous perch as head of drama.

Newman said he and Walden wanted to wait until a new head of comedy was in place before officially announcing Vila’s promotion.

“We hired Scott a year ago with the idea that Dana was likely to be moving up and wanted someone with potential to step up and run the department,” Newman said.

Walden said Vila has “provided leadership and stability” in the drama department during the studio’s transi-tional months.

“He’s a terrific executive with impeccable taste and instincts, and we have no doubt that he’ll maintain this studio’s position as the industry’s leading supplier of dramatic programming,” she said.

Newman and Walden went outside the executive ranks to recruit Johnson as the studio’s new head of comedy. The exec, whose resume includes stints as veepee of comedy at Universal TV, moved over to the creative side in the late ’90s and helped exec produce laffers such as “Coach” and “Clueless.”

“I didn’t know him before we met four or five weeks ago,” Newman said. “As an exec, he had no profile — he’d been writing for three or four years. But it was an unexpected coup to find Brad. People loved him years ago when he was an exec, and they’re going to love him again.”

Newman said the studio doesn’t plan to make any major alterations in the comedy arena.

“I do think that any time change happens, there’s an opportunity to evaluate your goals and your strate-gies,” he said. “We are going through that process with Brad. But I don’t think you’ll see any wholesale changes in personnel. We’re really pretty delighted with the roster of writers we have.”

Before joining 20th, Vila was VP of drama development at Paramount Network Television. While at the studio, he helped develop “Now and Again” for CBS and “Seven Days” for UPN. He had previously worked in current programming at Par, overseeing the first season of “JAG” as well as “Star Trek: Voyager,” “The Marshal” and “The Sentinel.”

Before serving as exec producer of “Clueless,” Johnson was prexy of “Coach” creator Barry Kemp’s Bungalow 78 Prods., serving as an exec producer-scribe of “Coach” and “Delta.” His career began as one of the first development execs at Showtime; he was named VP of comedy at Universal Television in 1986.

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