Saturday Night Live/Albert Brooks Film
The Albert Brooks Film was a recurring segment in the very earliest episodes of Saturday Night Live. It was simply a short film written and directed by and starring comedian, writer and filmmaker Albert Brooks.
Before Saturday Night Live (then known as NBC's Saturday Night) debuted on October 11, 1975, producer and creator Lorne Michaels had no clear vision of what type of show he wanted to put together. He knew he wanted something groundbreaking, original and innovative with cutting-edge comedy and the hippest music of the day, and he knew he did not want to pander to the audience. Beyond that, his game plan was relatively vague.
Of course, "it'll be funny and have good music" isn't good enough for networks and the press. They wanted a hook—something to promote and write about. At the network upfronts for 1975, Michaels had very little to give them. However, he had already made a deal with his friend Brooks—already well known as a comedian and writer—to produce half a dozen short films for use in the new show. When members of the press met Brooks and learned he would be involved, they seized upon his contributions as their hook. The new show (as yet unnamed, uncast and unwritten) was touted as "a new variety show featuring Albert Brooks." The news received so much buzz that NBC even briefly considered naming the new show The Albert Brooks Show, even though the show was to be filmed in New York while Brooks would be producing and filming his segments from the opposite coast, in Los Angeles.
Nonetheless, when the show at last debuted, Brooks' films were a major drawing point. Brooks was popular amongst the young, urban, sophisticated audience to whom the show played. Many of the Baby Boomer Generation tuned in largely to see what Brooks would do, as well as to see popular host George Carlin and an adult version of the Muppets. Thus, in that sense, the Albert Brooks Film worked.
However, almost immediately after it began, the Albert Brooks Film had become unnecessary. The segment was one of the most troublesome for Michaels in the earliest episodes. Although he retained his professional and personal respect for and admiration of Brooks, the segment seemed not to fit the show in Michaels' mind. The most obvious problem was that it was too long. Brooks frequently submitted films which ran much longer than ten minutes—more than 10% of the show's runtime and nearly 20% of its showtime. Michaels and Brooks traded multiple phone calls in almost every episode using an Albert Brooks Film in which Michaels begged Brooks to cut the segment down. Further, the comic sensibilities seemed incongruous with the show. While NBC's Saturday Night began almost immediately with parodies of the product of television—commercials, news, traditional musical performances, etc.—Brooks, from his vantage point so close to the Hollywood establishment, seemed more interested in satirizing the business of television—the producers and agents, the nature of celebrity and the attitude of executives towards the audience.
Perhaps the most fundamental problem, however, lay with the manner in which the Albert Brooks Films were produced. As producer and creator, Michaels exerted an unprecedented level of control over every aspect of the production of his show—all save one. While the production offices of NBC's Saturday Night were Michaels' own fiefdom, the Albert Brooks Films were made 3000 miles away in an utter vacuum. They were not written by the writers he had hand-picked and in whose writers room he was every day from Monday through Saturday; they did not feature the cast members he had hand-picked; they were not shot by the camera, sound and lighting crew for whom he fought with the network to keep. In a very real sense, it was The Lorne Michaels Show, and the weekly intrusions of another show altogether—The Albert Brooks Show—were jarring and irksome.
Granted, the segments were not without their admirers. In them, Brooks demonstrated a wryer, more self-deprecating comic sensibility than that for which he had previously been known. Later reviewers would see the Albert Brooks Films as an important touchstone between his earlier work and his more serious, reflective, personal work of the 1980s, '90s and 2000s. And when it came to being rebellious and shocking, the segments were on a par with the rest of NBC's Saturday Night. In his first film, he made jokes about the Israeli conflict and pedophilia, and in later segments, he thumbed his nose at his network bosses at NBC and also made references to child abuse, sexual threesomes and corporate shilling.
Nonetheless, it was clear there was a place for Brooks' comedy, but that place was not on Michaels' show. By the time the sixth and final segment ran, it had outlived its usefulness for Michaels. Brooks had induced some of the audience to tune in, but now the show was a hit in its own right, and the most talked-about segments were those starring cast members Chevy Chase and John Belushi, not the ones filmed by Brooks. Michaels did not renew his order from Brooks, and the Albert Brooks Films stood as one of several early experiments which could be considered to have failed. In their stead, Michaels used very short (generally less than three minutes) films the show's film producer, Gary Weis, had made, beginning even before Brooks' films made their final bow. Michaels also introduced the Home Movies, a series of short films produced by viewers. These alternate filmed segments would find much more success on the show than Brooks' segments had, and the Home Movies, in particular, continued to run well past Michaels' first run on the show.
- 1x01 - George Carlin/Billy Preston, Janis Ian: "The Impossible Truth." The Impossible Truth scans the globe searching for news stories other outlets won't cover.
- 1x02 - Paul Simon/Randy Newman, Phoebe Snow: "Albert Brooks's Home Movies." Brooks shows footage from his childhood and bloopers from his upcoming short films.
- 1x03 - Rob Reiner: "Operation." Brooks fulfills his lifelong dream of being a doctor when he finds an old man willing to let Brooks perform heart bypass surgery on him.
- 1x04 - Candice Bergen/Esther Phillips: "Mid-Season Replacement Shows." NBC promotes its midseason replacements for the 1975-76 season and its upcoming specials.
- 1x06 - Lily Tomlin/Howard Shore and His All Nurse Band: "The Impossible Truth." Note: Repeat of sketch from episode 1x01 - George Carlin/Billy Preston, Janis Ian.
- 1x07 - Richard Pryor/Gil-Scott Heron: "Sick Bed Agenda." Despite being very sick, Brooks films his segment on his own and berates his critics.
- 1x09 - Elliott Gould/Anne Murray: "Audience Research." Brooks takes viewers inside a top-secret laboratory where audience reactions to his film segments are tested so he can make them more popular.
- The first episode which did not feature an Albert Brooks Film, 1x05 - Robert Klein/ABBA, Loudon Wainwright III, listed "No film by Albert Brooks" as one of the features in the opening credits.