James L. Brooks
is one of television's most outstanding and successful writer-producers.
He is also one of the few who have become highly successful screenwriters
and directors of feature films. His work in both media has been
recognized with numerous awards from peers and critics, and both
television programs and films have been acclaimed by audiences.
in television began, however, in a very different arena. He was
a writer for CBS News in New York from 1964 to 1966. In 1966 he
moved to Los Angeles and became a writer and producer of documentaries
for David Wolper at Wolper Productions. By 1968, however, Brooks
and his partner, Allan Burns, had created the hit television show,
Room 222, where they served as executive story editors. This
program broke new ground for television by focusing on the career
of a black high school teacher, Pete Dixon (Lloyd Haynes). The show
tackled tough issues such as drug use and racial conflict in a concerned,
humane manner and won an Emmy as Outstanding New Series in 1969.
Much of the
same style and tone carried over into Brooks and Burns next success,
The Mary Tyler Moore Show. At MTM Productions Brooks and
Burns were among the first members of a large group of extremely
talented individuals, all working in a creatively charged atmosphere
established by executive producer Grant Tinker. Tinker's philosophy
was to acquire the services of creative individuals and then assist
them in every way possible to become even more productive. Brooks
and Burns thrived under the system, working first on The MTM
Show, then creating or co-creating, Rhoda, Paul Sand in Friends
and Lovers, Taxi, The Associates, and Lou Grant.
On the basis of these successes the team of Brooks and Burns became
known as members of a new group of Hollywood television producers,
often referred to as the auteur producers. They were the creative
force behind their shows, imparting a recognizable, distinctive
style and tone. Indeed, programs created at MTM Productions have
been referred to as the defining examples of "quality television."
were noted not only for their wit and quick jokes, but for establishing
a focus on character. Most were built around groups of characters
related by circumstance or profession rather than by family relations.
They were quickly recognized by critics as something different from
the earlier forms of television comedy focused either on zany "situations"
or on domestic settings. These new programs were among the first
and strongest of the "ensemble comedies" that were to dominate television
for decades to come. Human frailty and the comfort of friends, professional
limitations and the joy of co-workers, a readiness to take one's
self too seriously at times, matched by a willingness to puncture
excessive ego--all these are hallmarks of the Brooks style of ensemble
comedy. While social issues might come to the foreground in any
given episode, they were always subordinate to the comedy of human
manners, to character. In this way, the MTM shows were distinguished
from the more overtly issue-oriented style of Norman Lear. This
focus on character and ensemble has been passed down through professional
and industrial relationships into the work of other producer-writers
in shows as diverse as ER and Hill Street Blues, and
programs such as Cheers, Murphy Brown or Seinfeld
are clear descendants of the work of Brooks and his various partners.
In 1978 Brooks
began to shift his work toward feature films. He worked as writer
and co-producer on the film Starting Over and in 1983 he
wrote, produced, and directed Terms of Endearment, a highly
successful film in terms of both box office and critical response.
In 1984 Brooks
founded Gracie Films, his own production company, to oversee work
on film and television projects. To date, the best known television
programs developed at Gracie Films have been The Tracey Ullman
Show and its immensely popular spin-off, The Simpsons.
With some degree of irony, given Brooks' career, these two shows
are marvelously skewed views of television comedy. The Tracey
Ullman Show was replete with send-ups of American TV "types,"
the housewife-mother, the bored "pink collar" worker, the prime-time
vamp. And The Simpsons, using all the cartoon techniques
at its disposal, pokes fun at, and holes in, the idealized version
of domestic comedy that has long been a television staple. While
Brooks' involvement with these shows remains primarily at the level
of executive producer, the style and attitude he developed throughout
his years in television comedy is clearly at work. In some ways
he might be said to have inherited the mantle of Grant Tinker, discovering
new talent, making a space for creative individuals, and changing
the face of television in the process.
James L. Brooks
Photo courtesy of Broadcasting and Cable
L. BROOKS. Born in Brooklyn, New York, U.S. 9 May 1940. Attended
New York University, New York City, 1958-60. Married (1) Marianne
Katherine Morrissey, July 7, 1964 (divorced), children: Amy Lorriane;
(2) Holly Beth Holmberg. Began career at CBS television Sports division.
Moved to Los Angeles 1966 to work as writer-producer for David Wolper
Productions. Began television career as co-creator, with Alan Burns,
of Room 222; writer-producer for MTM Productions where he
participated with outstanding writing producing teams in creating
The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda, Lou Grant, and other series; co-creator
of TAXI and The Associates. Founded own production company, Gracie
Films, 1984. Film writer, producer and director of Terms of Endearment,
Broadcast News, Big, and others. Recipient: Emmy Awards; Golden
Globe Awards; George Foster Peabody Awards; Humanitas Awards; Director's
Guild Awards; Writers Guild of America Awards.
David Wolper Productions
1968-69 Room 222
1970-77 Mary Tyler Moore Show
1974 Paul Sands in Friends and Lovers
1976 The New Lorenzo Music Show
1977-82 Lou Grant
1979 The Associates
1986-90 The Tracy Ullman Show
1990-- The Simpsons
1994-- The Critic
Thursday's Game (Writer-Producer)
Over (writer, producer), 1979; Modern Romance (actor),
1981; Terms of Endearment(director, writer, producer), 1983;
Broadcast News (director, writer, producer), 1987; Big
(producer), 1988; The War of the Roses (producer), 1989;
Say Anything... (executive producer), 1989; I'll Do Anything
(director, writer), 1994; Bottle Rocket (executive producer),
Robert S., and Irby B. Brown. Love Is All Around: The Making
of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. New York: Delta, 1989.
Richard. "Still Lucky Jim? Comedy Czar James L. Brooks Tries to
Fix the Movie That Used To Be A Musical." Time (New York),
31 January 1994.
Jane, Paul Kerr, and Tise Vahimagi. MTM: "Quality Television."
London: British Film Institute Publications, 1985.
New York: Prentice Hall, 1988.
Sean. "James L. Brooks (Don't Worry Be Unhappy)." American Film
(Washington, D.C.), May 1989.
Horace, and Robert S. Alley. The Producer's Medium: Conversations
with Creators of American TV. New York: Oxford University Press,
Grant. Tinker In Television: From General Sarnoff to General
Electric. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994.
Bill. "The Only Real People On T.V. (The Simpsons)." Rolling
Stone (New York), June 28, 1990.
Tyler Moore Show, Simpsons