James L. Brooks

Show Creator/Producer


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

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About
About this interview

In his five-and-a-half-hour Archive interview, James L. Brooks recalls his early days as a page at CBS - working his way up to the newsroom - and speaks about his transition from researching documentaries to writing comedy. He tells of writing scripts for Hey Landlord, The Andy Griffith Show and My Three Sons before co-creating (with Gene Reynolds) Room 222. Brooks describes being teamed with Allan Burns to create and produce The Mary Tyler Moore Show and discusses his work on the program's spin-off series: Rhoda, Phyllis and Lou Grant. He recounts his work after he left MTM - producing Taxi, The Associates, and The Tracey Ullman Show, as well as several feature films including the Oscar-winning "Terms of Endearment." Brooks also talks about the craft of writing and producing for television and his continuing work as executive producer on The Simpsons. Karen Herman conducted the two-part interview on January 17 and February 12, 2003 in Bel-Air, CA.

"One of the amazing things about writing, is that you know in comedy that it works if they laugh. It keeps everybody honest in comedy and it's why people develop strange personalities. It's just a brutal fact that if they don't laugh, you die; if they laugh, you live." 

Interviewee(s)
Highlights
On how comedy works: it's good if you get a laugh 
On never thinking he could make a living as a writer
On his mother and aunt laughing at a funeral and becoming the inspiration for the "Chuckles Bites the Dust" episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show
James L. Brooks on The Simpsons' audience, the hidden jokes that appeal to different audiences, and catchphrases
On how much he learned from the cast of The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Full Interview

Chapter 1

On his childhood and early influences; on devouring published television scripts as a youngster; on interviewing celebrities for his high school newspaper; on becoming a CBS page
On his one year at NYU; on his experiences as a CBS page at CBS News

Chapter 2

On CBS News and operating in the public interest; on leaving the news and moving to Los Angeles to work on David Wolper documentaries
On working for National Geographic as a writer and his fear of insects; on his first television comedy job on My Mother The Car
On his comedic influences; on writing for The Andy Griffith Show, My Three Sons, My Friend Tony and Room 222

Chapter 3

On working on Room 222 with Gene Reynolds; on teaming with Allan Burns to develop The Mary Tyler Moore Show; on tweaking the first script of The Mary Tyler Moore Show after it received a poor response from the audience
On creating, writing and casting The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Chapter 4

On the cast and crew of The Mary Tyler Moore Show; on becoming a producer on the show
On boss Grant Tinker and leaving MTM; on the writing staff of The Mary Tyler Moore Show; on his inspiration for show ideas

Chapter 5

On writer Ed. Weinberger; on specific episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show
On the legacy of The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Chapter 6

On the wrap party for The Mary Tyler Moore Show; on Phyllis and Rhoda
On co-creating Lou Grant and staying with the series for a short time; on forming John Charles Walters Productions; on the creation of and ensemble cast of Taxi

Chapter 7

On the cast and genesis of Taxi
On story ideas for Taxi; on working with director Jim Burrows; on writing scripts for Taxi

Chapter 8

On the making of some of the best-known episodes of Taxi; on the last season of Taxi on NBC after being cancelled by ABC
On the theme song to Taxi; on co-creating The Associates
On writing and producing his first feature, Starting Over; On writing and directing Terms of Endearment

Chapter 9

On Terms of Endearment, Broadcast News, The Tracey Ullman Show and The Simpsons
On working for the nascent 4th network, FOX; On the characters of The Simpsons

Chapter 10

On the creation of The Simpsons and its cultural relevancy
On The Critic; On As Good As It Gets; On What About Joan
On his work-life balance

Chapter 11

On Gracie Films; on winning Emmy, Academy, and Golden Globe awards
On his writing process; on advice to aspiring writers and show creators; on his greatest achievement; on mentoring
Shows

All in the Family

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James L. Brooks on his Mary Tyler Moore Show being in the Saturday night CBS lineup with All in the Family; on comparisons between the two shows

Andy Griffith Show, The

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James L. Brooks on writing episodes of The Andy Griffith Show and My Three Sons

Associates, The

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James L. Brooks on co-creating and producing The Associates

Critic, The

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James L. Brooks on executive producing The Critic

Hey Landlord!

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Show co-creator/writer James L. Brooks on the first time he saw something that he had written for television on Hey Landlord

Lou Grant

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James L. Brooks on basing the editor for Lou Grant on CBS News editor John Merriman and using experiences with Merriman as fodder for The Mary Tyler Moore Show
James L. Brooks on co-creating Lou Grant

Mary Tyler Moore Show, The

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James L. Brooks on basing the editor for Lou Grant on CBS News editor John Merriman and using experiences with Merriman as fodder for The Mary Tyler Moore Show
James L. Brooks on wanting Walter Cronkite on The Mary Tyler Moore Show
James L. Brooks on the initial development of The Mary Tyler Moore Show
James L. Brooks on the Mary Richards character on The Mary Tyler Moore Show
James L. Brooks on the setting for and characters of The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Show co-creator/writer James L. Brooks on the story seed for The Mary Tyler Moore Show episode: "Chuckles Bites the Dust"
Show co-creator/writer James L. Brooks on Grant Tinker supporting taping of an episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show that the network was against
James L. Brooks on the "Put on a Happy Face" episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show
James L. Brooks on the "Will Mary Richards Go to Jail?" episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show
James L. Brooks on the "Lou Dates Mary" episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show
James L. Brooks on the "Once I Had a Secret Love" episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show
James L. Brooks on the "The Last Show" episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show
James L. Brooks on the "Mary's Big Party" episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Mary Tyler Moore Show, The: "Chuckles Bites the Dust"

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Show co-creator/writer James L. Brooks on the story seed for The Mary Tyler Moore Show episode: "Chuckles Bites the Dust"
Show co-creator/writer James L. Brooks on how he and the writers on The Mary Tyler Moore Show actually took the "Chuckles, the Clown" 'credo' to heart as a writing philosophy

Mary Tyler Moore Show, The: "Lou Dates Mary"

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James L. Brooks on the "Lou Dates Mary" episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Mary Tyler Moore Show, The: "Mary's Big Party"

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James L. Brooks on the "Mary's Big Party" episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Mary Tyler Moore Show, The: "Once I Had a Secret Love"

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James L. Brooks on the "Once I Had a Secret Love" episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Mary Tyler Moore Show, The: "Put on a Happy Face"

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James L. Brooks on the "Put on a Happy Face" episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Mary Tyler Moore Show, The: "Support Your Local Mother"

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Show co-creator/writer James L. Brooks on Grant Tinker supporting taping of an episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show that the network was against

Mary Tyler Moore Show, The: "The Last Show"

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James L. Brooks on the "The Last Show" episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Mary Tyler Moore Show, The: "Will Mary Richards Go to Jail?"

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James L. Brooks on the "Will Mary Richards Go to Jail?" episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show

My Friend Tony

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James L. Brooks on working for Sheldon Leonard on My Friend Tony

My Mother the Car

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James L. Brooks on his big break: getting a rewrite job on My Mother The Car

My Three Sons

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James L. Brooks on writing episodes of The Andy Griffith Show and My Three Sons

New Lorenzo Music Show, The

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James L. Brooks on The New Lorenzo Music Show

Paul Sand in Friends & Lovers

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James L. Brooks on Paul Sand in Friends and Lovers

Phyllis

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James L. Brooks on helping to pitch Phyllis

Rhoda

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James L. Brooks on the inspiration for Rhoda
James L. Brooks on Rhoda

Room 222

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James L. Brooks on writing for Room 222

See It Now

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James L. Brooks on the elegant writing of See It Now

Simpsons, The

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James L. Brooks on the development of The Tracey Ullman Show and the genesis of The Simpsons
James L. Brooks on the development and specific characters of The Simpsons
James L. Brooks on how much he enjoys The Simpsons
James L. Brooks on the format of The Tracey Ullman Show and the genesis of The Simpsons
James L. Brooks on how stories were written on The Simpsons
James L. Brooks on working with Matt Groening and Sam Simon on The Simpsons
James L. Brooks on working with Matt Groening and Al Jean on The Simpsons
James L. Brooks on The Simpsons' audience, the hidden jokes that appeal to different audiences, and catchphrases
James L. Brooks on the cultural aspects of The Simpsons  and how the quality of the series is kept up
James L. Brooks on his favorite Simpsons episodes and the show's legacy

Taxi

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James L. Brooks on the cast of Taxi
James L. Brooks on the genesis, development and casting of Taxi
James L. Brooks on the making of some of the best-known episodes of Taxi
James L. Brooks on the first episode of Taxi: "Like Father, Like Daughter"
James L. Brooks on the episode of Taxi: "Love Un-American Style" featuring the Schloogle
James L. Brooks on the two part episode of Taxi: "Scenskees From a Marriage" - Latka's affair
James L. Brooks on the final season of Taxi on NBC after ABC cancelled the show

Taxi: "Like Father, Like Daughter"

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James L. Brooks on the first episode of Taxi: "Like Father, Like Daughter"

Taxi: "Love Un-American Style"

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James L. Brooks on the episode of Taxi: "Love Un-American Style" featuring the Schloogle

Taxi: "Scenskees From a Marriage"

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James L. Brooks on the two part episode of Taxi: "Scenskees From a Marriage" - Latka's affair

Thursday's Game

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James L. Brooks on writing the ABC TV movie Thursday's Game and learning about movie-length writing

Tracey Ullman Show, The

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James L. Brooks on the development of The Tracey Ullman Show and the genesis of The Simpsons
James L. Brooks on the format of The Tracey Ullman Show

What About Joan

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James L. Brooks on the difficulties of producing What About Joan
Topics

Characters & Catchphrases

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James L. Brooks on the character of "Rhoda Morgenstern"
James L. Brooks on the inspiration for "Louie De Palma" on Taxi
James L. Brooks on the inspiration for "Alex Reiger" on Taxi
James L. Brooks on the character of "Elaine Nardo" on Taxi
James L. Brooks on the character of "Bobby Wheeler" on Taxi
James L. Brooks on the popularity of "Bart Simpson"
James L. Brooks on "Homer Simpson"
James L. Brooks on "Marge Simpson"
James L. Brooks on "Bart Simpson"
James L. Brooks on "Lisa Simpson"
James L. Brooks on "Maggie Simpson"
James L. Brooks on "Ned Flanders"
James L. Brooks on "Mr. Burns"
James L. Brooks on "Smithers"
James L. Brooks on "Principal Skinner"
James L. Brooks on "Mo"
James L. Brooks on "Apu"
James L. Brooks on "Krusty the Clown"
James L. Brooks on "Itchy and Scratchy"
James L. Brooks on "Sideshow Bob"
James L. Brooks on "Nelson"
James L. Brooks on catchphrases of The Simpsons

Emmy Awards

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James L. Brooks on Room 222 beating Sesame Street as best new show
Show co-creator/writer James L. Brooks on Grant Tinker supporting taping of an episode of  The Mary Tyler Moore Show that the network was against, and winning an Emmy for it
James L. Brooks on the two part episode of Taxi: "Scenskees From a Marriage" - Latka's affair, for which Carol Kane won an Emmy
James L. Brooks on winning Emmys for multiple genres

Hollywood Blacklist

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James L. Brooks on McCarthyism, the Hollywood Blacklist and Edward R. Murrow's influence

JFK Assassination and Funeral

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James L. Brooks on trying to write news copy about JFK's assassination

Minorities

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James L. Brooks on writing for Room 222 - the second show on television starring a person of color

Pop Culture

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James L. Brooks on the character of "Bobby Wheeler" on Taxi
James L. Brooks on the character of "Elaine Nardo" on Taxi
James L. Brooks on the inspiration for "Alex Reiger" on Taxi
James L. Brooks on the inspiration for "Louie De Palma" on Taxi

Studio and Network Management

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James L. Brooks on dealing with CBS executives during the development of The Mary Tyler Moore Show

TV Theme Songs

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James L. Brooks on the Taxi theme instrumental

Women

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James L. Brooks on the feminist revolution and The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Professions

Directors

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James L. Brooks on the best advice he got about directing - bring extra socks

Writers

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James L. Brooks on never thinking he could make a living as a writer
James L. Brooks on the best job in the world
James L. Brooks on writing
Genres

Comedy Series

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James L. Brooks on his Mary Tyler Moore Show being in the Saturday night CBS lineup with All in the Family
Show co-creator/writer James L. Brooks on The Mary Tyler Moore Show
James L. Brooks on specific episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show
James L. Brooks on Rhoda
James L. Brooks on the genesis, development and casting of Taxi
James L. Brooks on the making of some of the best-known episodes of Taxi
James L. Brooks on the characters of The Simpsons
James L. Brooks on The Simpsons

Drama Series

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James L. Brooks on Lou Grant

News and Documentary

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James L. Brooks on being a page for CBS News
People

Gracie Allen

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James L. Brooks on naming his company after Gracie Allen

Rod Amateau

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James L. Brooks on Rod Amateau, producer for My Mother The Car

Louis Armstrong

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James L. Brooks on interviewing Louis Armstrong 

Edward Asner

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James L. Brooks on the ensemble cast of The Mary Tyler Moore Show
James L. Brooks on Ed Asner getting his own show, Lou Grant

Allan Burns

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James L. Brooks on meeting show creator Alllan Burns
James L. Brooks on bringing in Allan Burns to produce Room 222
James L. Brooks on Grant Tinker pairing him with Allan Burns to develop The Mary Tyler Moore Show
James L. Brooks on dealing with CBS executives during the development of The Mary Tyler Moore Show
James L. Brooks on Allan Burns understanding the soul of "Mary Richards"
Show co-creator/writer James L. Brooks on his contract negotiations with Allan Burns and boss Grant Tinker
Show co-creator/writer James L. Brooks on leaving MTM to start a new company with MTM colleagues, but Allan Burns stayed at MTM
James L. Brooks on co-creator of Rhoda, Allan Burns
James L. Brooks on difficulties with the "Support Your Local Mother" episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show

James Burrows

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James L. Brooks on Taxi director James Burrows
James L. Brooks on working with director James Burrows and how Burrows flowered on Taxi

Johnny Carson

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James L. Brooks on the "Mary's Big Party" episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, guest starring Johnny Carson

Dan Castellaneta

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James L. Brooks on "Homer Simpson" aka Dan Castellaneta

Glen Charles

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James L. Brooks on working with Les Charles and Glen Charles, creators of Cheers

Les Charles

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James L. Brooks on working with Les Charles and Glen Charles, creators of Cheers

Paddy Chayefsky

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James L. Brooks on his awe of writer Paddy Chayefsky's prescience
James L. Brooks on writer Paddy Chayefsky's ear
James L. Brooks on his admiration of writer Paddy Chayefsky

Jeff Conaway

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James L. Brooks on Taxi actor Jeff Conaway

Walter Cronkite

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James L. Brooks on wanting Walter Cronkite on The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Joan Cusack

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James L. Brooks on the difficulties of producing What About Joan

Stan Daniels

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Show co-creator/writer James L. Brooks on leaving MTM to start a new company with MTM colleagues
Show co-creator/writer James L. Brooks on the writing staff of The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Michael Dann

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James L. Brooks on dealing with CBS executives during the development of The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Ted Danson

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James L. Brooks on Ted Danson guest starring on Taxi as a gay hairdresser

Tony Danza

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James L. Brooks on Taxi actor Tony Danza
James L. Brooks on Taxi actor Tony Danza

Dave Davis

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Show co-creator/writer James L. Brooks on the writing staff of The Mary Tyler Moore Show
James L. Brooks on fellow principal of John Charles Walters, Dave Davis

Danny DeVito

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James L. Brooks on Danny DeVito in Taxi 
James L. Brooks on Taxi actor Danny Devito 
James L. Brooks on Taxi actor Danny DeVito

Barry Diller

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James L. Brooks on Barry Diller's optimism 

Michael Eisner

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James L. Brooks on trying to get Terms of Endearment made

Georgia Engel

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James L. Brooks on Georgia Engel joining the cast of The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Fred Friendly

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James L. Brooks on See It Now producer, Fred Friendly

Steve Gordon

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Show co-creator/writer James L. Brooks on writer Steve Gordon of The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Matt Groening

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James L. Brooks on the development of The Tracey Ullman Show and the genesis of The Simpsons
James L. Brooks on the creation of The Simpsons as a series 
James L. Brooks on working with Matt Groening and Sam Simon on The Simpsons
James L. Brooks on working with Matt Groening on The Simpsons

Valerie Harper

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James L. Brooks on the ensemble cast of The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Marilu Henner

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James L. Brooks on Taxi actress Marilu Henner

Judd Hirsch

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James L. Brooks on Judd Hirsch almost not getting hired for Taxi

Al Jean

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James L. Brooks on working with Matt Groening and Al Jean on The Simpsons

Carol Kane

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James L. Brooks on the two part episode of Taxi: "Scenskees From a Marriage" - Latka's affair, for which Carol Kane won an Emmy

Andy Kaufman

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James L. Brooks on Taxi actor Andy Kaufman and the beginning of performance art
James L. Brooks on Taxi actor Andy Kaufman
James L. Brooks on Andy Kaufman anf Tony Clifton getting hired on Taxi

Julie Kavner

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James L. Brooks on "Marge Simpson" aka Julie Kavner

Ted Knight

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James L. Brooks on the ensemble cast of The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Show co-creator/writer James L. Brooks on Ted Knight of The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Cloris Leachman

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James L. Brooks on the ensemble cast of The Mary Tyler Moore Show
James L. Brooks on Cloris Leachman leaving The Mary Tyler Moore Show to do Phyllis

Sheldon Leonard

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James L. Brooks on working for Sheldon Leonard on My Friend Tony

David Lloyd

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Show co-creator/writer James L. Brooks on the writing staff of The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Christopher Lloyd (actor)

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James L. Brooks on Taxi actor Christopher Lloyd
James L. Brooks on Taxi actor Christopher Lloyd

Penny Marshall

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James L. Brooks on Penny Marshall in Paul Sand in Friends and Lovers

John Merriman

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James L. Brooks on basing the editor for Lou Grant on CBS News editor John Merriman and using experiences with Merriman as fodder for The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Mary Tyler Moore

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James L. Brooks on Mary Tyler Moore and her "Mary Richards" character on The Mary Tyler Moore Show
James L. Brooks on the ensemble cast of The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Show co-creator/writer James L. Brooks on having a female boss, Mary Tyler Moore

Edward R. Murrow

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James L. Brooks on being in a bar with legendary journalist Edward R. Murrow - "God was in the bar"
James L. Brooks on Edward R. Murrow

Lorenzo Music

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James L. Brooks on The New Lorenzo Music Show, and the voice of "Carlton the doorman" on Rhoda

Jack Nicholson

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James L. Brooks on working with Jack Nicholson on As Good As It Gets

Alan Pakula

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James L. Brooks on his mentor Alan Pakula

Gene Reynolds

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James L. Brooks on writing for Room 222 with Gene Reynolds
James L. Brooks on working with Gene Reynolds on Room 222
James L. Brooks on Gene Reynolds running, Lou Grant

Paul Sand

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James L. Brooks on Paul Sand in Friends and Lovers

Jay Sandrich

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Show co-creator/writer James L. Brooks on The Mary Tyler Moore Show director, Jay Sandrich

Treva Silverman

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Show co-creator/writer James L. Brooks on the writing staff of The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Sam Simon

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James L. Brooks on the creation of The Simpsons as a series 
James L. Brooks on working with Matt Groening and Sam Simon on The Simpsons

Yeardley Smith

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James L. Brooks on "Lisa Simpson" aka Yeardley Smith

Gloria Steinem

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James L. Brooks on Gloria Steinem at a feminist conference attacking "Mary Richards" for calling "Lou Grant," "Mr. Grant"

Grant Tinker

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James L. Brooks on meeting Grant Tinker
James L. Brooks on Grant Tinker pairing him with Allan Burns to develop The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Show co-creator/writer James L. Brooks on Grant Tinker supporting taping of an episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show that the network was against
Show co-creator/writer James L. Brooks on boss Grant Tinker - "the father you dreamed of"
James L. Brooks on difficulties with the "Support Your Local Mother" episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show
James L. Brooks on Grant Tinker's generosity in the development of Taxi
James L. Brooks on telling Grant Tinker that Taxi was cancelled by ABC, and Tinker offering him a slot on NBC
James L. Brooks on trying to get Terms of Endearment made

Leon Tokatyan

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James L. Brooks on dramatic writer for Lou Grant, Leon Tokatyan

Tracey Ullman

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James L. Brooks on the development of The Tracey Ullman Show and the genesis of The Simpsons
James L. Brooks on the format of The Tracey Ullman Show

Nancy Walker

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James L. Brooks on Rhoda's Jewish mother, Nancy Walker

Richard Wechsler

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James L. Brooks on working with Associate Producer Richard Wechsler, who took Brooks under his wing

Ed. Weinberger

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Show co-creator/writer James L. Brooks on leaving MTM to start a new company with MTM colleagues
Show co-creator/writer James L. Brooks on the writing staff of The Mary Tyler Moore Show
James L. Brooks on writer Ed. Weinberger
James L. Brooks on fellow principal of John Charles Walters, Ed. Weinberger
James L. Brooks on firing Tony Clifton from Taxi

Betty White

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James L. Brooks on Betty White, "Sue Ann Nivens" on The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Bud Wiser

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James L. Brooks on Bud Wiser

David L. Wolper

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James L. Brooks on David Wolper documentaries

Robert D. Wood

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James L. Brooks on dealing with CBS executives during the development of The Mary Tyler Moore Show

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