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James L. Brooks

James L. BrooksBorn: 9-May-1940
Birthplace: North Bergen, NJ

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Film/TV Producer
Party Affiliation: Democratic

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Producer of The Simpsons

James L. Brooks is a writer, producer, and occasional director of films and television. He won three Oscars, for writing, directing, and producing Terms of Endearment. He also has truckloads of Emmys, for the sitcom Taxi, The Tracey Ullman and Mary Tyler Moore Shows, Lou Grant, Rhoda, and his longest-lasting hit, The Simpsons.

Brooks was a fan of Matt Groening's comic strip "Life in Hell," and asked Groening if he would be interested in doing "Life in Hell" cartoons to air between skits on the Ullman show. When agents and lawyers got involved, it became clear that the studio would own the characters, so Groening declined -- "Life in Hell," after all, was his bread and butter, syndicated in hundreds of alternative newspapers. Instead Groening dreamed up a family of five "who love each other and drive each other crazy," and called them "The Simpsons."

The Ullman show was well-written and well reviewed, but it meandered in the ratings. Its "Simpsons" shorts, though, generated buzz. Brooks had a notion to spin the cartoon off into a series of its own, but the idea was widely considered bonkers. Prime time had occasional Peanuts specials, but there hadn't been a successful animated series in the evening hours since The Flintstones and The Jetsons in the 1960s.

Brooks pitched the idea over and over again to skeptical network execs, and Fox finally made a four episode commitment in 1989. Brooks was largely responsible for imbuing the staff with an "anything goes" attitude, and the network kept its interference to a minimum. The Simpsons debuted that year as a totally atypical Christmas special, and "Don't have a cow, man" has been ubiquitous ever since.

The 1994 film I'll Do Anything, with Nick Nolte, Ullman, Albert Brooks, and Julie Kavner from The Simpsons, was written and directed by Brooks -- as a musical. When it tested poorly in previews, all the songs were cut, but with judicious edits and re-shoots, it's still an enjoyable movie.

Which says something about Brooks -- even his screw-ups aren't Ishtar or Cutthroat Island. And when he gets it right, as in Broadcast News or As Good As It Gets, you're watching something that's actually worth watching.

Brooks owns Gracie Films, named in honor of the late commedienne Gracie Allen. Gracie has produced only a handful of films, but most have been good-to-great: Big, Bottle Rocket, Jerry Maguire, Say Anything, Spanglish, and The War of the Roses. For television, Gracie produced The Simpsons, and The Critic.

In his own Simpsons cameo, Brooks once tried to tempt Ned Flanders to come to Hollywood.

How does The Simpsons stay so funny, year after year? One of the show's executive producers, Mike Scully, credits Brooks. "It's set up to be a writer's dream. There's no network or studio interference. It's the way James L. Brooks set the show up in the beginning. We don't have to get approval from anybody."

Father: Edward M. Brooks
Mother: Dorothy Helen Sheinheit
Wife: Marianne Catherine Morrissey (m. 7-Jul-1964, div., one daughter)
Daughter: Amy Lorraine Brooks (TV producer, b. 1971)
Wife: Holly Beth Holmberg Brooks (writer, m. 23-Jul-1978, one daughter, one son)
Daughter: Chloe Brooks
Son: Cooper Brooks

    University: New York University (dropped out)

    Al Franken for Senate
    Bill Bradley for President
    Dean for America
    Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee
    Hillary Clinton for President
    John Edwards for President
    Obama for America
    PAC For a Change
    Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity
    Golden Globe

    The Simpsons Executive Producer
    The Critic Executive Producer
    Taxi Executive Producer
    The Mary Tyler Moore Show Executive Producer
    The Tracey Ullman Show Executive Producer
    Lou Grant Executive Producer
    Rhoda Creator, Writer
    Room 222 Executive Producer

    How Do You Know (17-Dec-2010)
    Spanglish (17-Dec-2004)
    As Good As It Gets (19-Dec-1997)
    I'll Do Anything (4-Feb-1994)
    Broadcast News (16-Dec-1987)
    Terms of Endearment (23-Nov-1983)

    Modern Romance (13-Mar-1981)
    Real Life (2-Mar-1979)

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