Jonathan Davis, Senior VP, Comedy, 20th Century Fox TV
No small swings: bringing big laughs with big ideas
By Tim Baysinger -- Broadcasting & Cable, 6/27/2011 12:01:00 AMClick here to read more Next Wave of Leaders
That isn’t nervous laughter coming out of Jonathan Davis’ office.
Davis, senior VP, comedy development, 20th Century Fox TV, heads the department responsible for two of the biggest recent comedy successes in primetime in ABC’s Modern Family and Fox’s Raising Hope.
He also developed three highly anticipated newcomers scheduled for next season: Fox’s New Girl, starring Zooey Deschanel as a recently dumped woman who moves in with all-male roommates; ABC’s Last Man Standing, starring Tim Allen; and ABC’s midseason 20-somethings ensemble, Apartment 23.
His strategy is simple: never play to middle. “We go big or go home,” Davis says.
Consistently pushing his team to go after the “big idea,” Davis understands that not everything will hit, but believes the payoff is worth it. “Sometimes when it doesn’t work out at all and it completely sucks, it’s OK, we know we went for something,” Davis says. “When we hit big, it goes right out of the park.
“A good leader is someone who is consistent, inspired and enthusiastic about the job,” Davis adds.
Davis proved naysayers wrong when he landed Home Improvement and Toy Story star Allen for Last Man Standing, marking the comedian and actor’s return to TV for the first time since 1999. “A lot of people didn’t think we were going to be able to pull it off,” Davis says.
He credits the enthusiasm of 30 Rock writer Jack Burditt (with whom 20th Century had a development deal) and Allen for making it happen.
Once Davis knew Allen was interested in coming back to TV, Davis’ team had Burditt come up with a script, with Allen’s input. Davis says “the marriage of the two voices was really awesome.” He also contends: “We come in every day fired up, we don’t take ‘no’ very well here.”
Davis has been in his current position since joining the studio in 2008 from sister network Fox. He started at Fox in 2002, as manager of alternative programming and late-night development, working on The Simple Life, Joe Millionaire and American Idol; he moved over to comedy development at Fox in 2003.
Davis wants to be known for consistently breaking new ground. “We’re not looking for the next Modern Family, we already made that,” Davis says. “What’s the next family look like?”
Davis and his team are steadfast in looking in places where others are not: “Our fate doesn’t lie in phone calls coming in.”
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