Iconic screenwriter-director-producer James L. Brooks, whose acclaimed films include Terms of Endearment, Broadcast News, and As Good As It Gets, has been named the recipient of the Writers Guild of America West’s 2018 Laurel Award for Screenwriting Achievement in recognition of his extraordinary career and body of work. He will be honored at the 2018 Writers Guild Awards West Coast ceremony on Sunday, February 11, at The Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills.
“James L. Brooks looms large for writers in our business. His movie scripts walk a razor’s edge; they are comedies that are tinged with tragedy, they have moments of absurdity mixed with sharply observed truths. The beauty of his work is that you never hear the writer behind it, his characters talk like real people and his scripts feel like life. We at the WGAW Board of Directors consider it our honor to give him this award,” said WGAW President David A. Goodman.
One of the most revered and influential creative artists in film and television, Brooks is a three-time Academy Award winner, an 18-time Emmy Award winner, and four-time Writers Guild Award winner.
Brooks launched his TV writing career during the mid-’60s, landing a gig writing for CBS News broadcasts based in New York, before moving to Los Angeles to pen several episodes of The Wolper Specials documentary series. He then segued into scripted programming, writing for numerous TV series, including Men in Crisis, My Mother the Car, My Three Sons, The Andy Griffith Show, and That Girl, which earned him his first WGA Episodic Comedy nomination in 1968.
A WGAW member since 1965, Brooks soon emerged as a major force in television, going on to create or co-create, write, and produce numerous hit television series that helped define an era, including the ground-breaking The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-77, Created by Brooks and Allan Burns) – one of the first primetime TV series to feature an independent working woman at its center – and its trio of hit spin-offs, Rhoda (1974-78, Created by Brooks & Allan Burns, Developed by David Davis & Lorenzo Music), Lou Grant (1977-82, Created by Brooks and Allan Burns and Gene Reynolds, Developed by Leon Tokatyan), and Phyllis (1975-77, Created by Ed Weinberger & Stan Daniels) – as well as Taxi (1978-83, Created by Brooks and Stan Daniels and David Davis and Ed Weinberger).
After an extensive and prolific career in television during the ’60s and ’70s, Brooks made the transition to the big screen at the close of the decade, penning the screenplay for 1979’s Starting Over, based on the novel by Dan Wakefield, which he co-produced with Alan J. Pakula, which earned Brooks a WGA screenplay nomination (Comedy Adapted from Another Medium).
He went on to write, direct, and produce the acclaimed 1983 dramedy classic, Terms of Endearment, adapted from the novel by Larry McMurtry. The film, which garnered eleven Oscar nominations, earned Brooks three Academy Awards, including Best Writing (Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium), Best Director, and a Best Picture Oscar, as well as a Writers Guild Award for his screenplay (Best Comedy Adapted from Another Medium) and a Golden Globe for Best Screenplay. Terms co-stars Jack Nicholson and Shirley MacLaine also earned Best Actor and Best Actress Oscars for their performances.
Next, he wrote, directed, and produced 1987’s Broadcast News, a sharp, incisive behind-the-scenes glimpse of a network TV news room based on his own experiences, which won the New York Dramas Critics Award for Best Picture and Best Screenplay, received Oscar noms for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay, and earned WGA and Golden Globe screenplay noms.
Through his own Gracie Films production banner, established in 1984, Brooks executive produced the feature film Say Anything…, which was Cameron Crowe’s directorial debut, produced The War of the Roses (screenplay by Michael Leeson) and produced Big with Robert Greenhut, which was Anne Spielberg & Gary Ross’ first screenplay.
Brooks made a leap to the stage, writing, directing, and producing his debut play, “Brooklyn Laundry,” which premiered in Los Angeles in 1990. That same year, Brooks’ production company, Gracie Films, inked an overall deal with Sony Pictures. He produced two new series for ABC – primetime animated series The Critic and Phenom – as well as directed the innovative musical dramedy feature film, I’ll Do Anything. In 1996, Brooks executive produced, Bottle Rocket, the debut film co-written and directed by Wes Anderson, and produced Jerry Maguire, written and directed by Cameron Crowe, sharing a Best Picture Oscar nomination.
In 1997, Brooks co-wrote, produced, and directed the box-office smash, As Good As It Gets (Screenplay by Mark Andrus and James L. Brooks, Story by Mark Andrus). The well-received film received seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Writing (Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen), as well as Best Actor and Best Actress wins for co-stars Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt. Brooks also earned a Writers Guild Award (Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen), shared with co-screenwriter Andrus.
Following up the critical and commercial success of As Good As It Gets, Brooks wrote and directed the 2004 dramedy Spanglish, and in 2007 Brooks co-wrote and produced The Simpsons Movie, the big-screen version of Fox’s hit animated series, the longest-running scripted series on television to date. In 2010, Brooks wrote and directed the romantic comedy How Do You Know, and most recently produced the 2016’s Edge of Seventeen, written and directed by Kelly Fremon Craig, making her directorial debut.
Brooks’ other TV writing credits include creating the trail-blazing high school drama Room 222, which aired from 1969-1974 and was notable as one of the first TV series to feature a black male in a lead role, as well as co-creating The Tracy Ullman Show (Created by Brooks, Jerry Belson, Ken Estrin, Heide Perlman), a boundary-pushing comedy-variety series which ran from 1987-1990 and debuted The Simpsons characters in a series of inspired animated shorts, which ultimately led to the launch of The Simpsons animated TV series (Created by Matt Groening, Developed by Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon) that would leave an indelible mark on pop culture, and the telefilm, Thursday’s Game, which he wrote and produced. Brooks was also part of the writing team for TV’s Stand Up to Cancer telethons in 2008 and 2010, which raised millions to combat cancer.
In addition to his acclaimed film career, Brooks has received numerous accolades for his work on television: In addition to multiple Emmy noms for his work on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, including noms Outstanding New Series and Outstanding Comedy Series for its debut season, and WGA Episodic Comedy noms for MTM in 1973 and 1978, Brooks earned an Emmy for Outstanding Writing Achievement in Comedy (shared with Allan Burns) in 1971, a trio of shared Emmys for Outstanding Comedy Series in 1975, 1976, and 1977, as well as a ’77 Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series for the series’ memorable final episode, “The Last Show” (shared with co-writers Burns, Ed Weinberger, Stan Daniels, David Lloyd, and Bob Ellison). In addition, MTM spin-off shows – from sitcom (Rhoda) to drama (Lou Grant) – earned Brooks Emmy noms for Outstanding Drama Series (Lou Grant, 1978) and Outstanding Comedy Series and Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series (Rhoda, 1975).
Brooks followed his MTM run by garnering three Outstanding Comedy Series Emmys for the critically acclaimed comedy series Taxi in 1979, 1980, and 1981. In addition to multiple Emmy noms, Brooks shared an Emmy win for Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Program for The Tracey Ullman Show in 1989, as well as an Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Variety or Music Program in 1990. As a co-developer and executive producer of Fox’s The Simpsons, Brooks has received numerous Emmy noms over the show’s decades-long run and earned ten shared Emmys for Outstanding Animated Program between 1990 and 2008.
In 1998, Brooks received the WGAW’s Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for Television Writing Achievement, the Guild’s highest honor for television writing, shared with his frequent TV writing partner Allan Burns. In 2006, Brooks received the WGAE’s Herb Sargent Award for Comedy Excellence, given to a writer who “embodies the spirit, commitment, and comic genius” of the late Sargent.
In 2007, he received the Gold Derby TV Award for lifetime achievement, in 2015 he received TCA’s Career Achievement Award, and in 2017 received the PGA’s Lifetime Achievement Award in Television for his prolific career.
Next up, Brooks is in the home stretch to finish his latest screenplay.
The WGAW’s Laurel Award for Screenwriting Achievement is awarded to a Writers Guild member who has advanced the literature of motion pictures and made outstanding contributions to the profession of the screenwriter. Past recipients include Elaine May, Oliver Stone, Harold Ramis, David Mamet, Robert Towne, Tom Stoppard, Paul Mazursky, Lawrence Kasdan, Eric Roth, and Steven Zaillian.