James L. Brooks

By Jackson Burke

"James L. Brooks Talks to The D"
© The Dartmouth Online, May 29, 2000.

Veteran TV and film creator discusses his past, present and future

Longtime film and television producer James L. Brooks came to Dartmouth this past week as a part of the Mongomery Fellowship project "Making Music, Making Movies." Brooks has one of the most illustrious hit lists in Hollywood, producing T.V. programs including "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," "Taxi," "The Tracey Ullman Show" and "The Simpsons," and films such as "Terms of Endearment," "Broadcast News" and the recent hit "As Good As It Gets."

As well as visiting several classes during his time on campus, he also addressed students and professors in a ceremony honoring him with the Dartmouth Film Award. The Dartmouth was able to talk with Brooks on some of his greater accomplishments.

Brooks is notable for his success in both television and motion pictures. "When I broke into movies, it was hard for anyone who had previously worked in television to break into the movies. I t's easier now, but was almost impossible back then," Brooks said.

"Anyway, I managed to get this picture made, 'Starting Over,' that was rather successful. I then went on with 'Terms of Endearment,' 'Broadcast News,' et cetera. I actually never meant to get back into television, but I knew that Tracey Ullman was trying to get someone to produce a TV show with her. Originally, I was only advising her, but when she couldn't find anyone after a while, I agreed to produce the show. It was lucky that I did, because one of the people who was a part of 'The Tracey Ullman Show' was an animator named Matt Groening, who was the creator of 'The Simpsons.'"

Brooks's most recent directorial effort on film was "As Good as it Gets," which won Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt Best Actor and Actress Oscars, respectively. "I honestly couldn't think of anyone who could have played the part of the lead other than Jack Nicholson. I had to think of someone who could play this monster, but not completely turn the audience off, someone who could in the end be loved. Jack was just the only choice.

"The only other person that I even vaguely considered, and bear in mind that this would have made it a completely different movie, was Jim Carrey. But I'm very happy that the film turned out the way that it did."

Perhaps his most timeless accomplishment was Brooks's role in getting "The Simpsons" on the air: "Matt Groening was an animator for "The Tracey Ullman Show" and would make these five-minute shorts of 'The Simpsons' for the show, which look like caveman drawings compared to what the Simpsons are now.

"The shorts were getting a great audience response, and Matt had always had this dream of making a prime-time animated program, which was not something that was done at the time. So myself and another producer friend got together with Matt to create 'The Simpsons.'

"It actually worked out quite well, because I had the background in sitcoms, and Matt had the background in animation, so we complemented each other to create what is today 'The Simpsons.'"

Brooks was also the creator of "Taxi," the show on which he worked with legendary comic Andy Kaufman. "Originally, when we were working to create 'Taxi,' Andy's manager dragged us to the Improv (an L.A. comedy club) to see his act, and this guy named Tony Clifton came out and just terrorized the audience. Then Andy comes out and does his act, and while he's onstage, his manager came over to us and told us that Andy and Tony were the same person. It just made your eyes pop. He loved that we would give him a different dressing room and contract for Tony."

Brooks was understandably closed-mouthed on his future projects, but he did admit that he has "two TV programs in the works, including one starring Joan Cusack. And I have a movie script that I've been working on for about six months, so keep an eye out."

CAPTION: Prolific film and television writer, director and producer James L. Brooks came to campus as a Montgomery Fellow.

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