Funny like a Fox

Jul 15, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Some television executives like to tell members of the creative community, “I’m one of you. I really get it. They just make me wear this suit.”
Don’t necessarily believe it, unless the person speaking is Tracy Katsky, senior VP of comedy at the Fox network.
“Tracy is one of the very rare 2 percent of executives who actually means what she says and lives up to it,” said Dave Cross, a longtime friend and colleague of Ms. Katsky and the comedian/writer/producer who co-created the cult favorite HBO series, “Mr. Show With Bob and Dave.”
“She’s an integral part of this world. She’s a fan of it. She champions it,” he said.
Ms. Katsky, who was instrumental in developing the Peabody Award-winning series “Malcolm in the Middle” and “The Bernie Mac Show,” has been steeped in comedy for as long as she can remember. Her soon-to-be husband, Linwood Boomer, is a sitcom vet and creator of “Malcolm in the Middle,” and Saturday Night Live writer/performer Sarah Silverman is a former roommate.
A Los Angeles native who studied theater at Bennington College in Vermont, Ms. Katsky became a comedy club rat when she returned to the West Coast, scouting for and booking up-and-coming talent. She fell into television somewhat accidentally.
“`Seinfeld’ was just taking off then, and suddenly, everyone wanted stand-ups for TV projects,” said Ms. Katsky, now 32. “I happened to be entrenched in the circuit.”
The best comedy in Ms. Katsky’s opinion is good-natured and character-driven. Some of her comedy touchstones range from cable-only series such as “Mr. Show” to classic “Saturday Night Live,” “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” and Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows.”
“It’s so personal what people find funny,” Ms. Katsky said. In her job, though, it’s vital to “figure out what makes you laugh-and what makes your bosses laugh.” There are two things that do not vary in the formula to a successful sitcom,” she said. “A singular vision and really good execution. You need both.”
Ms. Katsky has made her mark recently with the kind of uniquely twisted family comedies that have been Fox’s calling card since its early days. She helped shepherd “Malcolm in the Middle” when she was in the development department at Regency Television. She became its de facto co-executive producer with Mr. Boomer, and she brought the geek-chic band They Might Be Giants, which is signed to Regency-owned Restless Records, to the show.
The music, including the “Boss of Me” theme song, provided the pitch-perfect backdrop for the single-camera, no-laugh-track series. (The title song won a Grammy this year.)
Two more quirky family-centric shows Ms. Katsky helped develop will join Fox’s schedule in the upcoming TV season: “The Grubbs,” a contemporary family comedy that will debut in the fall, and for midseason, “Oliver Beene,” which centers on a family in the’60s. Along with those, Ms. Katsky had a hand in picking up Cedric the Entertainer’s sketch comedy show.
Fox’s Entertainment President Gail Berman has been working with Ms. Katsky for the past eight years, bringing her along at each of the past three places she’s worked, from Sandollar to Regency to Fox.
In addition to Ms. Katsky’s sterling reputation with the creative community, Ms. Berman said that as an executive, she has an unerring sense of timing, which is everything in comedy, of course.
“She’s able to move as trends move,” Ms. Berman said, “but I find her generally ahead of the curve, not behind it.”
Though she’s never done stand-up herself, Ms. Katsky isn’t without her shtick, her colleagues said. She’s been known to attend meetings with a wacky hat perched on her head and to send e-mails to Ms. Berman that look all business on the outside but are actually goofy downloads from the Internet or gross jokes.
“She’s irrepressible,” Ms. Berman said. “She’s just a wonderful, exuberant person.”