Bernie Brillstein

Nikki Finke writes a fine obituary for Bernie Brillstein, the Hollywood super-agent who has died at the age of 77. As you can see from the clients and projects he was associated with, Brillstein may have done more than anyone else to shape the direction of comedy, particularly television comedy, in the ’70s and ’80s; lining up a lot of talented young performers and writers as clients, he perfected the art of “packaging” a series, not only seeing it through the development process but filling it with his own clients (especially writers) and getting an executive producer credit on the finished show. (Sometimes the cross-pollination between clients didn’t work out so great: two of his most famous and important clients were Jim Henson and Lorne Michaels, but putting  Muppets on the first season of Saturday Night Live was kind of a disaster.)

This not only was lucrative, since he owned a piece of the show as well as a cut of the money from the clients who worked on the show, but it gave the shows their own style that was associated with Brillstein and his clients, an ironic, stupid-smart type of comedy that was simultaneously more highbrow and lowbrow than the type of comedy that prevailed in TV and movies in the early ’70s. (Brillstein’s clients tended to have that National Lampoon style of combining ostentatious cleverness with really lowbrow jokes — the Animal House/SNL sensibility, in short.)