James L. Brooks

Active - 1971 - Present  |   Born - May 9, 1940 in Brooklyn, New York, United States  |   Genres - Comedy, Comedy Drama, Romance

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Biography by Hal Erickson

One of the few producer/director/writers to handle both movie and TV assignments with equal aplomb, James L. Brooks was born in Brooklyn and spent his college years in New York City. Following an apprenticeship with CBS news, Brooks went to work for documentary producer David L. Wolper. In 1969, Brooks broke into the non-documentary end of the business with his TV series drama Room 222, which, though dated and obvious when viewed today, was an important stepping stone in improving the racial balance on prime time television. Room 222 was a "serious" effort; thus, Hollywood insiders were surprised when Brooks formed a partnership with writer Allan Burns, formerly of such raucous projects as The Bullwinkle Show and My Mother the Car, to develop sitcoms.

Brooks and Burns knew what sort of programs they wanted to do, but they were forced to fight tooth and nail with the CBS higher-ups to get what they wanted on the air. Nobody, they were told, wanted to see a show about a single woman working at a television station. Further, nobody wanted to see anyone on TV who was Jewish, had a mustache, or came from New York City. All these "unwanted" elements would be present in the Brooks/Burns project The Mary Tyler Moore Show; the show that nobody wanted ran from 1970 through 1977, earning its production team a multitude of awards. Brooks would later be on the ground floor of such TV hits as Cheers and Taxi, which more than compensated for such relative failures as The Associates.

Moving into films as a producer/scripter (Starting Over, 1979) and even an occasional actor (Albert Brooks's Modern Romance, 1981), Brooks would end up director/producer/writer of Terms of Endearment, the Academy Award winner of 1983. He went on to direct Broadcast News (1987), a truer but no less hilarious and poignant glance at the cutthroat network news business than Mary Tyler Moore Show had been. He also found great success as a producer on such films as Big (1988), ...Say Anything (1989), and Jerry Maguire (1996). During the '90s, Brooks has had equal parts success and failure. Among the winning projects was The Simpsons, the first successful prime time cartoon series since The Flintstones. Brooks' less spectacular efforts have included I'll Do Anything (1994); conceived and filmed as a return to the Big-Budget Musical genre, it tested so poorly that it was released with all the songs cut out. In 1997, however, Brooks had a major success with the Jack Nicholson/Helen Hunt vehicle As Good As It Gets, a caustic comedy with a heart of gold that provided both Hunt and Nicholson best acting kudos from the Oscars and Golden Globe ceremonies. The film won a Golden Globe for Best Picture and was nominated for several more. It also received several more Oscar nominations, including one for Best Screenplay. He took seven years before making his next feature, Spanglish, a movie about a marriage on the rocks that Brooks undertook around the time he and his own wife split. Three years later he was one of the producers of The Simpsons Movie, and in 2010 he returned with the romantic comedy How Do You Know.

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  • Began his career as a writer for CBS News.
  • Broke into television as a freelance writer on shows such as My Mother the Car and The Andy Griffith Show.
  • Was hired by MTM (a production company founded by Mary Tyler Moore and her then-husband Grant Tinker) to help create the classic sitcom The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
  • Founded his own production company, Gracie Films, in 1984.
  • Recruited syndicated newspaper cartoonist Matt Groening to do short animations for the Tracy Ullman Show and then to create the enduring hit series The Simpsons.