When your first job is with Lorne Michaels' production company, you definitely hit the ground running. That is exactly how director and producer John Fortenberry started, and right out of the gate he was working with comedy royalty. By the time his career was in full swing, he had collaborated on some of the edgiest and most recognizable comedy forays in television history.
Born in Jackson, Mississippi, Fortenberry graduated from the film and television department of the University of Mississippi. Immediately after graduation, he moved to New York and got a job at Lorne Michaels' Broadway Video production company. He worked as an editor for eight years before seizing a chance at producing and directing.
In 1985 Fortenberry served as editor on the TV documentary "Whoopi Goldberg: Direct from Broadway"(1986) and the Joe Mantegna and Christine Baranski TV movie "Big Shots in America" (1985). He moved on as editor on the TV movie "Looney Tunes 50th Anniversary" (1986) and began his steady rise up the ladder with a first producing credit on a "Saturday Night Live" (NBC 1975- ) video compilation he also served as editor on, "The Best of Dan Aykroyd" (1986). In 1987, he edited the film of Paul Simon's benefit concert for victims of the South African apartheid township revolts, "Graceland: The African Concert" (1987).
The following year Fortenberry was editor on the film version of the Spalding Gray monologue "Spalding Gray: Terrors of Pleasure" (1988). He was also director and supervising producer on an episode of the critically-acclaimed Canadian ensemble sketch comedy show "The Kids in the Hall" (CBC 1988-95), a project backed by Michaels. In 1992 Fortenberry rolled up his sleeves as supervising producer on 13 episodes of a short-lived sketch comedy review penned by a Who's Who of soon-to-be-huge comedy stars, "The Ben Stiller Show" (FOX 1992-93). He also directed 12 of those 13 episodes.
In 1996, Fortenberry became involved in another star-studded comedy experiment that received very solid critical notices but a tepid audience response, "The Dana Carvey Show" (ABC 1996). The show proved influential, but was too controversial for the network and only lasted seven episodes. Fortenberry then directed four episodes of the television adaptation of the hit movie "Clueless" (ABC 1996-97).
Now well positioned as a television director, Fortenberry shot three episodes of the sitcom "Just Shoot Me!" (NBC 1997-2003) and two of the largely reviled sports sitcom "Arli$$" (HBO 1996-2002). He broke into film with a Will Ferrell/Chris Kattan flop based on a "Saturday Night Live" sketch, "A Night at the Roxbury" (1998) before directing six episodes of an ensemble sitcom featuring an up-and-coming Ryan Reynolds, "Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place" (ABC 1998-2001). Also starting in 1998, the director worked on the wildly popular Ray Romano hit "Everybody Loves Raymond" (CBS 1996-2005), directing six installments over four years.
Fortenberry then shot one episode in 2000 for the hit Michael J. Fox series "Spin City" (ABC 1996-2002) and for the flop "Seinfeld" follow-up "The Michael Richards Show" (NBC 2000). He followed that with a decent run on David Alan Grier's sitcom "DAG" (NBC 2000-01), directing ten episodes. In 2002 Fortenberry directed an episode of the snarky Seth Green show "Greg the Bunny" (FOX 2002-06).
In 2002, he oversaw three episodes of the critic's favorite "Andy Richter Controls the Universe" (FOX 2002-03), a show with an extremely strong cult fan base. Between 2004 and 2006, Fortenberry directed one episode a year of another cult favorite with a fanatical base who refused to abandon the show, "Arrested Development" (FOX 2003-06).
In its first season, Fortenberry directed three episodes and was executive producer on seven episodes of one of the few cable shows to reach broadcast syndication, "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" (FX 2005- ). The following year, he directed two episodes of the Aaron Sorkin ensemble piece about backstage intrigue on a comedy show based loosely on "Saturday Night Live," "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" (NBC 2006-07) during its sole season on the air.
The following year, he worked on an episode of a juicy, short-lived cable show featuring Courteney Cox as a tabloid editor, "Dirt" (FX 2007-08) and an episode of the hugely popular ratings machine "Ugly Betty" (ABC 2006-10). In 2011, Fortenberry completed a long run directing 25 episodes over a six-year span of the award-winning Dennis Leary dramedy "Rescue Me" (FX 2004-11) That same year, Lionsgate hired Fortenberry to direct a sequel to the widely panned comedy film "Fred: The Movie" entitled "Fred 2: Night of the Living Fred" (2011).
The director eked out two episodes during the short run of the critically-praised "Pan Am" (ABC 2011-12), a period drama in the "Mad Men" mold, with Christina Ricci as a stewardess during the early 1960s. In 2013, Fortenberry completed an episode for a midseason replacement "Family Tools" (ABC 2013), which was cancelled after losing more than a million viewers in its second week.
Director (Feature Film)
First TV credit on "Whoopi Goldberg: Direct from Broadway"
Edited Paul Simon's concert documentary "Graceland: The African Concert"
Director of critically-acclaimed but controversial sketch comedy series "The Dana Carvey Show"