“Let me start with Mary,” said James L. Brooks stepping up to the podium tonight at the Producers Guild Awards where the TV creator/filmmaker was receiving the Norman Lear Achievement Award.
“I promise you as a woman, she was everything you sensed. She had dignity, worth, legs, wit, she was intrinsically valiant, she was the woman who was at the center of the work and who never complained. She made grace contagious. Let’s have a hand for Mary.”
Prior to Brooks speech, a reel of his TV series included Mary Tyler Moore’s “Thanks for being my family” speech to her coworkers on Mary Tyler Moore where they then engage in a huge, hysterical group hug. “It was Mary who wanted to say the goodbye speech,” said Brooks.
Brooks remembered Moore’s late husband Grant Tinker who was the co-founder of MTM Enterprises, which produced Mary Tyler Moore, Rhoda, and The Bob Newhart Show. “He was the mayor of Shangri-la, creating happy neurotics and supporting them at every turn. He was a boss who was loved by his employees, but the real thing where the heart beats faster, and every interaction with the boss was a ‘Dear Diary’ moment.”
Brooks recalled the fearful moment when he was sent by MTM to pitch a roomful of CBS executives the idea of Mary Tyler Moore, a memory the creator described as “Now you’ve ever been in an accident? Where there’s a point in the calamity where everything is in slow motion?” Brooks recalled that the room hardly laughed and reminded him that according to audience research the things which don’t resonate on TV were “divorce, men with mustaches and Jews.”
The executives ordered Tinker to fire Brooks’ team, but the MTM chief wouldn’t have it. He was such a mensch, he gave Brooks the rights to Taxi (based on a magazine article) gratis when the TV creator left for Paramount TV because “he wanted to see what we could do with it.”
Brooks also praised late Paramount TV chief Gary Nardino who fought for Taxi to stay within its choice time period, as well as Barry Diller who greenlighted The Simpsons without a pilot script.
“It’s often our bosses who shape and color our lives and can send us along with new energy and resolve or terrorize us, sending us off crying,” said Brooks who praised TV as the standard entertainment format.
Exclaimed Brooks, “A TV series is the best job that gives you creativity, freedom, continuity. It’s still the place where executives lean forward when someone says ‘I have a crazy idea.’ The best jokes rule, and the script is king.”