Thomas rides at Fox 21

Indie arm pacts with 'Free Ride' creator

Fox 21 — the boutique arm of 20th Century Fox Television — has inked its first overall deal, signing “Free Ride” creator Rob Roy Thomas to a multiyear pact.

Seven-figure deal calls for Thomas to develop, create and exec produce projects for the studio. He’ll also stay with “Free Ride” if the semi-improvised Fox laffer is picked up for a second season.

Fox 21 was launched as a sort of “anti-studio” that wouldn’t look to make the roster-driven overall deals with writers that are an essential part of bigger studios’ business models.

“But Rob isn’t a traditional writer,” said Fox 21 topper Jane Francis. “He does improv, he’s a director, he’s a filmmaker, and it just seemed like the right fit. We weren’t looking for overall deals, but … Rob’s found a way to make commercial television in our price point.”

Thomas said he felt comfortable with Fox 21’s mission statement, which is to come up with low-cost, alternative programming.

“They’re not fighting me on wanting to do something different. They want to do something different,” he said. “It’s all about how we can get something done instead of why we can’t.”

“Free Ride” has had a tough time airing opposite “Desperate Housewives” at 9:30 p.m. Sundays, holding on to less of its lead-in than regular timeslot occupant “American Dad.” Still, skein ticked up in its final airing April 9, and its lower production costs make it a bargain compared to traditional laffers.

Thomas is expected to develop projects next season regardless of whether “Ride” is renewed.

Before creating “Free Ride,” Thomas created and exec produced the Bravo comedy “Significant Others.”