Joe Roth is getting into the sitcom business with Leslie Moonves.
In his biggest move since taking control of Paramount Network Television, Moonves has signed a rich three-year deal with Roth designed to produce laffers for CBS. Roth will set up a new company on the Par lot that will operate apart from his Revolution Studios.
As part of the deal, Eye has given Roth’s company at least one six-episode series commitment as well as an additional put pilot guarantee.
Comedy will be Roth’s early focus, with the producer eager to lure feature-level talent to the small screen in a bid to ease the medium’s current dearth of hit laffers.
“My sole purpose in starting this company is to quickly” work on launching comedies, Roth told Daily Variety. “That’s what’s missing from TV right now. The networks have plenty of dramas, and I couldn’t develop a reality show if my life depended on it.
“I’ve always found the best strategy in business is to focus on one thing.”
Moonves called Roth “an unbelievable talent magnet” with the producing chops needed to find new comedy stars and concepts.
“He’s been involved in a number of feature film successes, and we hope to do the same with him in television,” Moonves said in an interview from Gotham.
Roth’s deal allows him to develop for all webs. “But I’m sure that if Joe is able to secure a piece of A-level talent, CBS will get first crack at it,” Moonves quipped.
Indeed, Roth said he’s “not thinking of selling seven different networks. It’s really more about how I can develop a couple of shows we could really knock out of the park.”
Pact with Par/CBS starts in January, but Roth said he’s not wasting any time getting started. He’s already looking for someone to head development, and in the meantime, Roth said he’ll start setting up projects himself.
“I would love to get something set up quickly so that there’s something on the air next September,” Roth said. He also said he’s willingto direct a pilot or episodes of a show.
Roth’s only TV experience was producing this year’s Oscarcast, but his feature track record in comedy is stellar.
Starting with the 1976 underground comedy “Tunnel Vision” and his role launching the Improv in L.A., Roth’s been involved in a string of comedy hits, from “Home Alone” and “My Cousin Vinnie” to “Daddy Day Care” and “Anger Management.”
Roth said he first started thinking seriously about TV a few months ago, realizing after the Oscars that “what everyone had been telling me was true: the producer in TV has the same role as a director in movies.”
“I thought it would be great to get more creatively involved and duplicate the experience I had working on the Academy Awards.”
Roth said he believes the time is right for comedy to make a comeback.
“People still stand in line for movie comedies, so it wouldn’t make sense that they wouldn’t want to watch them on TV,” he said. “And I personally miss the great comedies, the (shows like) ‘Seinfeld’ and ‘Frasier’ and ‘Friends’ and ‘Cheers.'”
Roth said inking with Par “felt the most comfortable to me because they’re starting over. I’m not going to be one of 75 people on the roster, and they have a great tradition of comedy.”
He also noted he and Moonves have known each other for 25 years but have never worked together. “He’s opinionated and a closer, which is something I’m used to in the movie business,” Roth added.
Deal, which was brokered by CAA and Sam Fischer, puts Par on a par with its main studio rivals in terms of feature talent with major TV deals. Jerry Bruckheimer’s small screen shop is set up at Warner Bros. TV, while Ron Howard and Brian Grazer’s Imagine TV is based at 20th.
Revolution is gearing up for the release of Tim Allen starrer “Christmas with the Kranks” later this month. Studio recently set up gritty drama “Freedomland,” which Roth will direct (Daily Variety, Nov. 12).