That isn’t nervous laughter coming out of Jonathan
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
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, JoeMillionaire 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.”