Brooks, James L. 1940-

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BROOKS, James L. 1940-

PERSONAL: Born May 9, 1940, in Brooklyn, NY; son of Edward M. and Dorothy Helen (Sheinheit) Brooks; married Marianne Catherine Morrissey, July 7, 1964 (divorced, 1971); married Holly Beth Holmberg, July 23, 1978; children: (first marriage) Amy Lorraine; (second marriage) Chloe, Cooper, Joseph. Education: Attended New York University, 1958-60.

ADDRESSES: Office—Gracie Films/Columbia Pictures, Poitier Building, 10202 Washington Blvd., Culver City, CA 90232-3119.

CAREER: Writer, producer, and director. Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) News, New York, NY, reporter and writer, 1964-66; Wolper Productions, Los Angeles, CA, writer and producer of documentaries, 1966-67; American Broadcasting Co. (ABC), Los Angeles, executive story editor and creator of television series Room 222, 1968-69; CBS, Studio City, CA, executive producer and creator of television series The Mary Tyler Moore Show, 1970-77; founder of Gracie Films, 1984. Producer, co-creator, and writer for numerous television series and films, 1968—, including Thursday's Game, Cindy (musical), Rhoda, The New Lorenzo Music Show, Friends and Lovers, Lou Grant, Taxi, The Associates, Broadcast News, The Tracey Ullman Show, Sibs, The Simpsons, I'll Do Anything, and The Critic; also producer of films Big, 1988, War of the Roses, 1989, and executive producer of Say Anything, 1989, Jerry Maguire, 1996, As Good As It Gets, 1997. Appeared as an actor in the film Modern Romance, 1981. Guest lecturer, Stanford Graduate School of Communications.

MEMBER: Television Academy of Arts and Sciences, Writers Guild of America, Directors Guild of America, Screen Actors Guild, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

AWARDS, HONORS: Emmy Awards, National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, for best new series, 1969, for Room 222, for outstanding comedy writing, 1971, and 1974-77, and for outstanding comedy series, 1975-77; Peabody Award, Writers Guild of America Award nomination, best teleplay, TV Critics Achievement in Comedy Award, TV Critics Achievement in Series Award, and Humanitas Prize, all 1977, all for The Mary Tyler Moore Show; Humanitas Prize, 1977 and 1982, both for Rhoda; Peabody Award, 1977 and 1978, Emmy Award for outstanding writing in a drama, 1978-82, and Emmy Award nomination for outstanding drama series, 1978, all for Lou Grant; TV Film Critics Circle Award for achievement in comedy and in a series, 1977, Golden Globe Award for best comedy, 1978-80, Humanitas Prize, 1979, and Emmy Award for outstanding comedy series, 1979-81, all for Taxi; Academy Award for best film and best adapted screenplay from American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Golden Globe Award, and New York Film Critics Circle Award, all 1984, all for Terms of Endearment; Academy Award nomination for best picture and winner of best original screenplay from American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and best picture, best original screenplay, and best director from New York Film Critics Circle, both 1987, for Broadcast News; Emmy Awards for outstanding variety or comedy Series, and two Emmy Awards for outstanding writing of a variety or music show, for The Tracey Ullman Show, 1986-90; Emmy Award for outstanding animated special and outstanding animated program, 1990, for The Simpsons; Academy Awards, best picture, 1996, for Jerry Maguire, and best picture and best original screenplay, both 1997, for As Good As It Gets; inducted into Hall of Fame, Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, 1998; TV Paddy Chayefsky Laurel award, Writers Guild of America, 1998, for screenplay As Good As It Gets.



(Cowriter and coproducer) Thursday Game (television film), 1971.

(And coproducer) Starting Over, Paramount, 1979.

(And coproducer and director) Terms of Endearment (based on the novel by Larry McMurtry), Paramount, 1983.

(And producer and director) Perfect, 1985.

(And producer and director) Broadcast News, Twentieth Century-Fox, 1987.

(And coproducer and director) I'll Do Anything, Columbia Pictures, 1994.

(Cowriter, producer, and director) As Good As It Gets, TriStar, 1997.


(And creator) Room 222, ABC, 1968-69.

(With Ernie Frankel and Robert Hamner) My Friend Tony, NBC, 1969.

(And cocreator, with Allan Burnsand executive producer) The Mary Tyler Moore Show, CBS, 1970-77.

(With Allan Burns) Paul Sands in Friends and Lovers, CBS, 1974.

(With others) Rhoda, CBS, 1974-78.

(With Allan Burns) Lou Grant, CBS, 1977-82.

(With Allan Burns) The Associates, ABC, 1979-80, syndicated, 1982.

(With Allan Burns) Duck Factory, NBC, 1984.

(With Allan Burns) The Tracey Ullman Show, Fox 1986-90.

(Executive producer, with Matt Groening and Sam Simon) The Simpsons, Fox, 1990—.

(With Allan Burns) The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd, NBC, 1987-88, Lifetime, 1989.

(With Allan Burns) Eisenhower and Lutz, CBS, 1988.


Thursday's Game, ABC, 1974.

(With Stan Daniels and David Davis) Cindy, ABC, 1978.

(With others) The Munsters' Revenge, NBC, 1981.

SIDELIGHTS: With everything from tear-jerking dramas to irreverent comedies to his credit, screenwriter/producer/director James L. Brooks has established himself as a Hollywood mainstay. New York Times correspondent Aljean Harmetz noted that with his "long jaw, black mustache and heavy beard," Brooks "might be Mephistopheles as a stand-up comic. The comedy that gushes out like water from a lawn sprinkler has no edge of nastiness. It is sweet and cheerful and aimed at no one but himself." Brooks made a name for himself in the 1970s as a television writer, and in the ensuing years has performed a myriad of tasks for both television series and feature films, winning both accolades and important awards. Among his notable works for television are the series Room 222, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda, Lou Grant, and The Tracey Ullman Show and for the big screen Terms of Endearment, Broadcast News, and As Good As It Gets. Brooks served in other capacities such as coproducer—for such other well-known films as Big, The War of the Roses, and Jerry Maguire. Brooks has been variously described as a mercurial man who can bubble effusively one minute and turn apprehensive the next, and an engaging eccentric who has made a career of mining his own inner turmoil for laughs, and later, for tears.

A self-described "early latchkey" kid who grew up in the New Jersey suburbs of New York City, Brooks dropped out of New York University in the late 1950s to take a job as a copy boy for CBS News. After four years of toil in the newsroom (later the source for his television news-based Mary Tyler Moore Show and Broadcast News), he managed to work his way up to newswriter and reporter. He left New York City in 1966 to work as a television writer in Los Angeles.

In Hollywood, Brooks began writing and selling scripts for various situation comedies, including The Andy Griffith Show and That Girl. He landed a full-time job with ABC in 1968 as executive story editor and went on to create the award-winning television series Room 222. He returned to CBS in 1970 and scored an immediate hit as creator, writer, and producer of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. The series was the first in a string of television hits that eventually included the comedies Rhoda and Taxi and the drama Lou Grant. As the 1970s drew to a close, Brooks had three series running simultaneously (Taxi, Rhoda, and Lou Grant), all of which reflected the troubled spirit of the decade. Having received numerous Emmy Awards and other citations from the television industry, Brooks decided to move into feature films.

As a would-be movie producer and director, Brooks found himself, in the early 1980s, with an adaptation of a Larry McMurtry novel, an idea for directing it, and no encouragement from the studio brass. "Not commercial," "too downbeat," and "Who would be interested in the problems of this mother and daughter?" were, according to Harmetz's article, just some of the rejection remarks Brooks got when he was trying to pitch Terms of Endearment. Finally Brooks got a deal from Paramount, and Terms of Endearment, starring Shirley MacLaine, Jack Nicholson, and Debra Winger, was released in 1983. The reaction seemed instantaneous, with critics and public alike responding to the bittersweet comedy of family loyalty and romantic infidelity. Among the many gifted artists involved in the movie, Brooks was singled out for particular praise—even in his handling of the touchy subject of death in what ostensibly appears to be a comedy.

"In adapting [McMurtry's] entertaining and affecting but dramatically diffuse novel, Brooks has contrived to finesse most of the structural defects built into its rambling, episodic nature," noted Washington Post critic Gary Arnold. "His touch is so pleasant and the cast so skillful and enjoyable that it may seem immaterial to ask yourself if this narrative is really getting someplace, rather than passing the time agreeably." Arnold continued: "When a decisive crisis [in the film] occurs, Brooks takes even more impressive advantage of the novel's belated, arguably under-handed resort to incurable illness as a cure-all for plot drift. Spectators who feel resentful about the way the movie activates and exploits its concluding, heartbreaking twist of fate will probably be in a clear minority, but it will be difficult for the rest of us to deny that they have a legitimate esthetic complaint."

In a New York Times review of Terms of Endearment, Vincent Canby admitted that the film "is not a perfect movie," with its scenes of fatal illness and family breakdown. The critic went on to conclude, however, that the work "must be one of the most engaging films of the year, to be cherished as much for the low-pressure way in which it operates . . . as for the fact that it contains what are possibly the best performances ever given by Shirley MacLaine and Jack Nicholson." Terms of Endearment went on to capture three major Academy Awards, including best picture and best adapted screenplay for Brooks.

After what is commonly acknowledged as a false start, the 1985 aerobics-love story Perfect, Brooks came back with an original screenplay culled from his own past as a writer in a television newsroom. Broadcast News, released in 1987, presents the traditional love triangle—between Jane, a savvy network-news producer, Aaron, a brilliant but uncharismatic reporter, and Tom, an attractive if less-than-gifted news anchorman—that evolves into a love quadrangle, as careerism becomes a consuming part of each character. "The story unfolds as a series of 'days in the life of a network news bureau,' and a cautionary tale it is," remarked Sheila Benson in the Los Angeles Times. "Brooks is understandably distressed at the state of the news we're getting, in bright, flashy, easily digested 'bites,' a USA Today, 'Entertainment Tonight' version of the news."

Broadcast News is "funny, it's intelligent, and it's aimed at the upscale, but what will sell it . . . is that it's all about Washington Media Folk, the people America loves to hate and who, it might be speculated, love to hate themselves," according to Washington Post reviewer Tom Shales. Chicago Tribune correspondent Dave Kehr observed: "Though Brooks begins with a slightly sitcom-like sense of narrowly defined, single-trait characters—there's the dumb one, the smart one and the compulsive one—he builds on the archetypes to create remarkably full, complex figures, in whom strengths and weaknesses, generous impulses and selfish interests exist side by side." Benson feels that Brooks's "talent for observation and for truthful, careful writing borders on the eerie. He's captured these young people and their pressure-cooker jobs exactly—their banter, their rationalizations, the balance of their lives between work and whatever comes a close second. . . . [Brooks] has seen that a playful sort of ego-speak guards their vulnerability, and he understands that there is a distinct pragmatism to his whiz kids. But he likes them. And there's no way in the world that we won't either."

In Washington Post critic Hal Hinson's opinion, Broadcast News "never comes close to being a great, penetrating work about television news. It's not a scathing satire like Network, nor is it to broadcast journalism what All the President's Men was to print. But Brooks's ambitions for [this movie] appear to have been far less exalted. [He instead has crafted] a teasing, affectionately critical satire of his former profession. In the process, he's created a spunky romantic comedy with some of the snappiest lines heard on screen in a long while." Members of the Motion Picture Academy agreed with these assessments, awarding Brooks a best original screenplay Oscar, along with a nomination for best picture.

Broadcast News was the first motion picture released by Brooks's own production company, Gracie Films, named after the famous comedienne Gracie Allen. Brooks created Gracie Films as a refuge for the writer, as he explained in an American Film profile. "The justification for Gracie was to try this idea out," he stated, "that we'd consider it a personal failure if more than the original writer's name appeared on the [film] credits. . . . We wanted authorship of movies, not the latest draft from the latest person hired." In addition to its screen-writing and film-producing mission, Gracie Films has provided a launching point for several television series, including the highly irreverent animated comedy The Simpsons. In a Rolling Stone piece on The Simpsons, Bill Zehme stated: "Without Brooks, of course, it is doubtful Simpsonia would have gripped the land. He sponsored the Simpsons' rise by hiring [creator Matt] Groening." Zehme concluded that The Simpsons had become "the soul of Fox Broadcasting, dependably notching Top Twenty Nielsen ratings."

The renewed television success brought to Brooks by The Simpsons did not interfere with his movie projects. In 1994 he released I'll Do Anything, a satire of Hollywood that was originally conceived as a musical but ended up being reshaped into a comedy-romance with one song. Featuring a score largely written by Prince and choreography by the eminent modern dancer Twyla Tharp, I'll Do Anything exhibited "the kind of crackling comedic dialogue that is a hallmark of all of Jim Brooks's work," to quote Nancy Griffin in Premiere. Griffin added that even after the musical numbers had been excised, "what remains is, incredibly enough, a dazzling, urbane comedy of which Brooks can be justly proud, rich in its navigation through the ethical flytraps and seductions of the entertainment industry." The film failed to draw at the box office, however, a consequence—so Brooks thought—of its inherent complexity. "There is something about me that's at war with simplicity," he told Premiere. "And if it is true that the form requires some simplicity, maybe that is it."

In 1996 Brooks added to his list of movie credits with Jerry Maguire; and in 1997 As Good As It Gets, coauthored with Mark Andrus. As Good As It Gets is a romantic comedy about an obsessive-compulsive romance writer, who is anything but nice, and a struggling single-mother waitress, who is the only person at the restaurant who can stand the novelist. As Brooks told Alan Waldman during an interview in WritersGuild of America online, he and Andrus spent over a year polishing the script, which they felt was very risky because the main character is so unlikeable at first. "This was a romantic comedy that didn't insist you root for the couple to make it. I think that's what set it apart," Brooks continued. While this unique aspect worked for some viewers, for others it proved to be too original. Stanley Kauffmann, writing in New Republic found the romantic tangle "unbelievable, partly because of the soppiness that eventually comes Nicholson's [romance writer's] way." Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum shared a similar view, noting that as hard as the stars try, "upon closer inspection [the cute premise], rings falser rather than truer. It's pretty good, but not nearly as good as Brooks gets." Other reviewers begged to differ, however. National Review movie critic John Simon praised Brooks for his ability to manipulate viewers' emotions to make them laugh and cry, sometimes simultaneously. In appreciating the comedic aspects of As Good As It Gets, Simon pointed to Brooks's dialogue, which he deemed "lively, often bitingly funny," and the screenplay, which "jolts as well as it tickles." Another reviewer found much to like in Brooks's dialogue. "What's perhaps most enjoyable about the movie is its intelligent writing," commented George Meyer of the Sarasota Herald Tribune. "The shrewd script sparks even the spikiest insult with originality and turns the wordplay into lines so elegant you'll wish you'd said it." Many viewers appreciated the film's merits, as shown when As Good As It Gets was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won two of them. Brooks acted as coproducer of the 2001 movie Riding in Cars with Boys, starring Drew Barrymore.

Throughout his career Brooks has remained a writer with an ear for snappy dialogue that lashes out at the listener, that has the ring of authenticity but at the same time tells the viewer: here is something you have never heard before. And he has remained, too, an iconoclastic, almost capricious teller of darker truths. "I'm telling you," Brooks explained in Premiere, "I'm a guy trying to get the people right." He does so by showing the weakness and strengths, obsessions and compulsions of his characters. In Interview magazine he concluded: "The truth about making movies is—is God help us if it's all that important."



American Film, May, 1989, p. 44.

Chicago Tribune, April 8, 1984; December 16, 1987; January 3, 1988.

Commonweal, January 29, 1988, p. 49.

Cosmopolitan, February, 1988, p. 40.

Entertainment, January 9, 1998, Liza Schwarzbaum, review of As Good As It Gets, p. 42; January 30, 1998, Lisa Schwarzbaum, review of As Good As It Gets, p. 46.

Films in Review, January-February, 1997, Rocco Simonelli, review of Jerry Maguire, p. 87.

Forbes, November 12, 1990, p. 188.

Interview, April, 1988, p. 92.

Los Angeles Times, November 23, 1983; December 16, 1987; December 20, 1987; January 11, 1988; March 27, 2001, Howard Rosenberg, "There's Not Much to Laugh about in 'Joan', " p. F-10 .

Movieline, April, 1994, p. 36.

Ms., March, 1988, p. 26.

Nation, January 23, 1988, p. 94.

National Review, February 5, 1988, p. 56; February 23, 1998, John Simon, review of As Good As It Gets, pp. 57-58.

New Republic, February 1, 1988, p. 26; February 2, 1998, Stanley Kauffmann, review of As Good As It Gets, p. 25.

Newsweek, April 17, 1989, p. 72; December 22, 1997, David Ansen, review of As Good As It Gets, pp. 85-87.

New York, February 1, 1988, p. 54; December 22, 1997, David Denby, review of As Good As It Gets, p. 134.

New Yorker, January 11, 1988, p. 76; April 2, 2001, Nancy Franklin, review of What about Joan, pp. 88-89.

New York Times, November 20, 1983; November 23, 1983; December 4, 1983; April 8, 1984; January 7, 1988, p. C19; December 23, 1997, Janet Maslin, review of As Good As It Gets, p. B1 (N), p. E1 (L); March 25, 2001, Hilary De Vries, "Joan Cusak Goes for Calm in Sit-com," p. 40 (N).

New York Times Magazine, April 8, 1984; November 4, 2001, A. O. Scott, "Homer's Odyssey: After 12 Years, How Does The Simpsons Remain the Best Show on Television?," p. 42.

People, December 21, 1987, p. 10; January 12, 1998, Leah Rozen, review of As Good As It Gets, p. 21.

Premiere, February 8, 1988, pp. 84, 86; September, 1989, p. 105; March, 1994, p. 49.

Rolling Stone, June 28, 1990, p. 41.

Sarasota Herald Tribune (Sarasota, FL), December 26, 1997, George Meyer, "As Good As It Gets Lives Up to Its Name," p. 9.

Sight and Sound, March, 1998, Xan Brooks, review of As Good As It Gets, pp. 38-39.

Vogue, February, 1988, p. 86; April, 1988, p. 198.

Washington Post, October 5, 1979; November 23, 1983; December 13, 1987; December 25, 1987; December 26, 1997, Desson Howe, review of As Good As It Gets, p. N34.


Writers Guild of America Web site, (April 17, 2003), Alan Waldman, interview with James L. Brooks.*

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Brooks, James L. 1940-

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