Bernie Brillstein wasn’t a household name like Bernie Mac or Isaac Hayes — as a talent manager and producer, his work was all strictly behind the scenes — but his vast impact on entertainment shouldn’t be forgotten amid this weekend’s tragic showbiz losses. Brillstein, who died Thursday night at 77, had a hand in countless classic TV and film projects, from Sesame Street to Saturday Night Live to The Sopranos, and he guided the careers of numerous top stars and scriptwriters.
Brillstein helped launch the Muppets on TV when Jim Henson became his client. As a manager for Lorne Michaels and many of the early SNL players, he was also instrumental in launching SNL and many of its stars’ early movies, from Animal House to The Blues Brothers to Ghostbusters. He was an early exemplar of the automatic “executive producer” credit, which he would earn not for his creative input on the set, but for setting up the deals that made a movie or TV series possible by putting his writing and acting clients together in a project. At one time or another, he represented such actors as Brad Pitt, Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Sylvester Stallone, Adam Sandler, Geena Davis, Nicolas Cage, Richard Dreyfuss, Peter Falk, George Wendt, David Spade, and Rob Lowe, as well as such writers as SNL‘s Alan Zwiebel and The Bob Newhart Show‘s Tom Patchett and Jay Tarses. Among the works he produced or got off the ground were Hee Haw, Alf, It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd, Dangerous Liaisons, The Steve Harvey Show, Happy Gilmore, The Cable Guy, Mr. Show with Bob and David, Politically Incorrect, Just Shoot Me, and Newsradio. His company, Brillstein-Grey (his partner was future Paramount chief Brad Grey) was behind such series as The Larry Sanders Show and The Sopranos.
Nikki Finke of Deadline Hollywood Daily has a nice tribute to Brillstein here. The best, tribute, however, may be in his own memoir/Hollywood advice tome, Where Did I Go Right?: You’re No One inHollywood Unless Someone Wants You Dead. Musing on who could play him in a movie version of the book, the beefy, white-bearded Brillstein told EW, “It could be anyone from Johnny Candy if he wasstill alive to Kenny Rogers if he were a little fatter. Though Imight hold out for Robert Redford.”
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