Fox TV comedy toppers ankle, ink prod’n deal

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20th Century Fox TV comedy toppers Mindy Schultheis and Michael Hanel have left their posts to form a new production company.

Schultheis and Hanel will develop and exec produce half-hour and hour series under an exclusive, overall development deal with 20th.

Twentieth is expected to tap writer-producer Brad Johnson to assume Schultheis’ top comedy job at the studio. Scott Villa is also close to being named 20th’s head of drama, a position which has been vacant since Dana Walden was upped to co-prexy of the studio.

Leaving her post as exec veepee of comedy at the studio, Schultheis said she has been eager to form a small production house “with all the resources of a giant studio.”

“This way I can focus on 10, 12 projects I believe in and get to follow them through,” she said.

Outlines of the duo’s production deal had been in place for months; Schultheis and Hanel had been expected to ankle their studio posts even before former 20th topper Sandy Grushow was elevated to his new position overseeing both the studio and Fox Broadcasting Co.

Still-unnamed production unit will “be bringing in writers (and) signing up talent,” Hanel said. Company will also have access to 20th’s extensive talent roster. But the duo say they won’t be hiring any extra exec staff to help run their new production shingle.

“Our feeling is to do it ourselves for now,” said Hanel.

As for particular projects, “We have ideas, but nothing specific (in the works) yet,” he said.

Schultheis said she and Hanel considered going independent with their new production company, but industry realities ultimately convinced them to keep the new entity in-house.

“We looked at the landscape and said, ‘Wow, with all the vertical integration out there, where do we fit in?'” Schultheis said. “You have to be willing to take a much bigger chance to go out on your own. What Marcy (Carsey) did was pretty phenomenal.

“I would need a huge pot of money to be able to attract the amount of writers it would take to be an indie,” Schultheis added. “We prefer that 20th take the risk of casting a wide net, and then we get to pick and choose.”

Twentieth co-presidents Gary Newman and Dana Walden made the announcement Wednesday.

“Mindy and Michael are among the top creative execs in the business, and we felt it enormously important, both personally and professionally, to keep them in the Fox family,” Newman said. “We’re really thrilled that this deal will offer them the opportunity to fulfill their long-held desire to be producers and offer us a new and important source for writers, talent and ideas.”

Schultheis previously served as exec veepee of 20th’s comedy department. She joined 20th in 1996 as senior vice president and oversaw the development of series such as “Dharma & Greg,” “Two Guys and a Girl,” “King of the Hill,” “Futurama” and “Titus.” Most recently she helped develop new CBS sitcom “Yes Dear.”

The exec previously served as senior vice president of comedy at Columbia TriStar Television.

Previously senior veepee of comedy, Hanel joined 20th in 1995 and also helped develop shows such as “Dharma,” “Titus” and “Then Came You.”

“We had a great run here, surrounded by a great group of execs,” Hanel said. “They made it very easy and very comfortable for us to serve this last year as execs.”

The duo is repped by Endeavor and lawyer Jim Jackaway.

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