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Three Men And A Lady

It took years, but Jim Brooks finally got the winning combination for his new hit movie, ‘Broadcast News’

William Hurt, 'Broadcast News'

William Hurt in news studio in a scene from the film 'Broadcast News', 1987.

20th Century-Fox/Getty

Even though he’d just won his first Oscar, Jim Brooks couldn’t relax. After returning to his seat in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Brooks had placed the gold statuette for writing Terms of Endearment on the floor between himself and his pregnant wife, Holly; now and then they would look down at its shiny head and share a nervous giggle.

But Terms of Endearment hadn’t won any of the technical awards it was nominated for, and Brooks, despite having effectively corralled the star power of Jack Nicholson, Debra Winger and Shirley MacLaine, had convinced himself that the directing prize would go to one of the other, more experienced nominees: Mike Nichols, Bruce Beresford, Peter Yates or Ingmar Bergman.

So when the presenter, Sir Richard Attenborough, announced, “And the winner is . . . James L. Brooks,” the winner shut his eves and shook his head violently — no — then walked dazedly up to the podium and blurted, “I feel like I’ve been beaten up.” The audience sat in bewildered silence, not appreciating that he’d just uttered a line right out of a Jim Brooks script: unexpected, painfully honest —and funny.

Oscar night was certainly deepening the creases in Jim Brooks’s forehead — creases telegraphing his two favorite emotions, worry and pleased surprise. A few moments later, Brooks was called up as producer to collect the Best Picture Oscar — for a movie it had taken him four years to persuade anyone in Hollywood to finance.

“I admire the fact that the man won three Oscars in his first directing job,” says Jack Nicholson, “and nobody pays that much attention to him. It matter-of-factly went by the boards that he did something that nobody’s ever done in the history of movies. It’s ideal in a way. No one else is applying that pressure to Jim that he might be feeling himself.”

THE RELENTLESS WORRIES JIM BROOKS CERTAINLY applied enough pressure on his own. “This was clearly when they give you the ticket,” he says today. “I knew to take a ride on it fast, because they can cancel it so easily. That tends to make it not fun but burdensome.”

The ride was a typically tortured one: Brooks chose as his next subject “the fundamental changes” that the Eighties obsession with careers has wrought in young people’s romantic lives. He spent two and a half years researching and writing his first original screenplay, Broadcast News, and then wrestled another trio of intelligent, dedicated and strong-willed actors — Albert Brooks, William Hurt and Holly Hunter — into a perfectly balanced ensemble.

With Broadcast News, Jim Brooks has triumphed over his own insecurity, his actors’ egos and Hollywood’s predilection for pablum. Like all of Brooks’s work — including the classic television shows Room 222, The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Taxi — Broadcast News is foremost an embracing of characters, faults and all, and, unlike Terms of Endearment, never panders to the sentimental. It depicts the romantic triangle made up of the TV-news producer Jane Craig (Hunter), the budding anchorman Tom Grunick (Hurt) and the reporter Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks). The backdrop for their personal drama is the chaotic world of an unnamed network’s Washington, D.C., news bureau, which is torn by ethical dilemmas, bottom-line thinking, layoffs and the war between soft and hard news.

Brooks has again elicited utterly convincing performances. The notoriously intellectual Hurt plays against type as the dim and morally vague Tom, who succeeds on his charisma and good looks. As the savvy and talented Aaron, Albert Brooks tempers the self-in-volvement that has sometimes interfered with his own films (Real Life, Modem Romance and Lost in America); while pretty boy Tom romances both the woman Aaron loves and the job he covets, Brooks softens his sardonic wit with a touch of pathos.

But the pivotal role belongs to Holly Hunter as the object of their affections, the tough, obsessive producer Jane Craig. In making Jane abrasive, unglamorous but ultimately appealing, Hunter (whose only other major film role was in Raising Arizona) has vaulted from virtual anonymity to Oscar contention. If her Best Actress award from the New York Film Critics’ Circle is any indication, Hunter is a shoo-in for a nomination, as are Brooks, who was cited for his screenplay and direction, and Broadcast News itself, which won the Best Picture award. At the crux of the film are Jane’s stringent journalistic standards, which get singed a bit by Tom’s sexual heat. Tom represents the new age of network news, in which flash counts for more than substance.

Jim Brooks calls everything important to him “a big deal,” and for him everything about Broadcast News was a big deal. It has been digging wrinkles in his brow ever since he straggled home after 5:00 a.m. with those Oscars nearly four years ago. His standards were so exacting that he nearly couldn’t cast his heroine; and throughout writing and production, he wavered about exactly how to present the film’s deliberately untidy ending. For a long time he feared the movie was a complete disaster. “The balance was so delicate,” he says, “that everything you do is like driving a load of nitroglycerin. No wonder I’m so exhausted.”

EACH MORNING THE STRAY CATS on the Twentieth Century Fox lot cluster to meow loudly outside the door of Gracie Films, Jim Brooke’s bungalow production office. The cats symbolize the leeway that brooks has earned within Hollywood’s superstructure. Originally brought on the lot to eliminate a mouse problem, the cats rapidly multiplied and became just as unwanted as the rodents; Fox frowns on anyone who feeds them. But Brooks has become virtually a studio unto himself, producing the Fox network’s Tracey Ullman Show and movies directed by Penny Marshall and others. So nobody minds much when bowls of milk find their way to the bushes outside the bungalow.

“Jim got it all,” says Polly Platt, production designer of Terms of Endearment and executive producer of Broadcast News. “And most everybody I know has been corrupted by that power. But Jim is the most interesting thing to come along forever, because with all this money and power, he hasn’t become an asshole.”

Inside Brooks’s office (where the young Shirley Temple once napped between scenes), the only visible sign of status is the electromagnet holding open the door, which he can release while seated at his oak desk. Otherwise, the room resembles a den, complete with an adjacent patio, a fireplace, books and mementos — Emmys, family snapshots, a Lakers team portrait, the winning Oscar envelopes and a placard from the Broadcast News shoot reading, JAMES L. BROOKS UNTITLED.

“Everything about this movie was obsessed over,” says Brooks, pacing around, “even the title, and look what we came up with! It’s shameful.” During the shoot in Washington, the cast and crew wore jackets with the word UNTITLED stitched across the back and held name-the-movie contests.

Fundamental Changes was one,” says Brooks, “Who Cares, which I loved for a while, that sort of double-entendre. State of the Art, Washington Circle, Tom Grunick and the News, Choices — you can see the competition wasn’t tough.”

The hand wringing carried over to Brooks’s personal life. Holly Brooks was pregnant and gave birth during the shoot — and the boy remained unnamed for another six weeks. “Everyone was making the same joke,” says Brooks. “‘Why don’t you call him Untitled?’ ” (Eventually he was named Cooper; Jim also has a daughter from his first marriage, Amy, 16, who makes a cameo appearance in Broadcast News; Chloe, 3, arrived after attending the Oscars in utero.)

At forty-eight, the bearded, slightly jowly Brooks wears his troubled enthusiasm well. Friends find him endlessly supportive of their work and tolerant of their eccentricities. In interviews he shifts restlessly in his seat, but the gaze of his rich brown eyes is always intent: he often gets up and acts things out, stories bursting forth in the style of the pitchman he’s frequently had to be.

He didn’t write Broadcast News in this busy office. Instead, he moved around, from his house in Trancas, California, to an apartment in New York City, from a Washington hotel to a secluded storeroom on the Fox lot, banging away on the same manual typewriter he’s had for twenty-five years, which, he says, “looks more eccentric than I want it to, [but] it’s in line with my thinking time. Word processing seems to invite perfection. If I see a schmutzed-up piece of paper with a lot of crossings out, where the typewriter key goes through the paper, then I know I can improve on that. It’s clearly a work in progress.”

Throughout the writing, Brooks’s relationship to the material remained, in his word, “servitude.” He rarely felt in control. For one thing, he was trying to write at least two characters — Jane and Aaron — whom he felt to be smarter than himself. He also wanted desperately not to grind any axes about the changes in work and romance, just take note. And he realized that the only way to do an effective triangle was not to commit to either pairing, which meant writing a lot of missed connections, a much more complicated and painful task than getting two characters together. After painting himself into a comer, he realized that perhaps neither pairing would work. “If I’d known that would be the ending, I don’t think I would have started.”

Most frustrating was the feeling that “for a long time, I didn’t like any of them. Of course, that means you’re hating yourself in some way. But instead of going back and saying, ‘I have to make them more lovable,’ I just kept going forward, and it was very hard.” Eventually he started to accept them, and he says now that he “wouldn’t mind having a drink with any of them.”

While Broadcast News was taking shape, Brooks sought feedback from his “neurotic network” of phone friends who often talk at dawn, including the veteran TV-comedy writers Jerry Belson, Dave Davis, Harvey Miller and Ed. Weinberger. He’d write three pages, then start punching the auto-dialer. “Jimmy’ll read pages to the guy who delivers the water,” says Belson. “He’s not afraid to try his stuff out on people until they yell at him.”

JIM BROOKS DEVELOPED THIS INEXHAUSTIBLE GIFT of gab early on. “He was always a great talker,” says his only sibling, Diane. “He could sell ice to Eskimos.”

Brooks inherited the salesmanship from his parents: Edward Brooks sold furniture; Dorothy sold children’s clothing. He grew up in dingy North Bergen, New Jersey, a gawky lower-middle-class kid who survived on humor. Eddie left home after Jim was conceived, came and went repeatedly, then left for good when his son was twelve. (He died recently; Dorothy died on the job in 1961.)

Brooks idolized the legendary CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow and dropped out of New York University after two semesters to keep his summer job at CBS, where he worked his way up from copy boy to news writer. Then a friend got him a job in Los Angeles working on documentaries, which was eliminated six months after his arrival. He started watching TV shows and writing scripts on spec., receiving his first check from My Mother the Car. In 1969, after selling about ten scripts to shows like Hey Landlord, The Andy Griffith Show and That Girl, Brooks, then twenty-nine, wrote the pilot for Room 222 and began his rapid ascent to the popedom of the character-driven situation comedy. He won eight Emmys during his reign.

His duties as a TV writer-producer made him a de facto director: in a three-camera show, directors often change from episode to episode, whereas producers oversee the final scripts and thrash them out with the cast. Television taught him to rewrite on his feet and to incorporate other people’s opinions, but he also learned to fight for his own. “I’ve always, um, cared,” Brooks says, “sometimes to the exclusion of decorum.”

A FEW MONTHS AFTER WINNING THE OSCARS, Jim Brooks attended the 1984 Democratic National Convention, in San Francisco, looking for young, successful people to be sources for his characters. He interviewed everyone in range of his tape recorder — print reporters, network newspeople, politicos.

Brooks, a news junkie, at first felt he’d already “done” the news, having used it as the setting for The Mary Tyler Moore Show. But he discovered the field had changed drastically: people were entering from advertising and filmmaking backgrounds, and cable television’s gavel-to-gavel coverage had forced the networks to move toward the “soft” news typified by slick, slight shows like West 57th. He thought TV news would be an apt setting for his subject.

On the last day of the convention he was introduced to a woman who would become a major source for Jane Craig: CBS’s White House producer at the time, Susan Zirinsky. Zirinsky, 35, is a tireless dynamo who rises every day at 5:00 a.m., often works until 8:00 p.m., then waits up for an 11:30 delivery of the following day’s Washington Post, which she devours. She answers the phone with a brisk “Zirinsky” and is the kind of workaholic who can pull off ten tasks simultaneously. She only hooked up with her boyfriend, CBS’s Washington bureau chief, Joe Peyronnin, “because,” she says, “they dropped [him] in the middle of the same news room.”

The day after the convention, Brooks met Zirinsky for an exhaustive interview on a park bench. When they were done, she told him that, by the way, she and Peyronnin had gone to city hall and gotten married that morning. Brooks fell off the bench: he’d found someone who personifed a fundamental change.

Brooks moved on to the Republican convention in Dallas, then to Washington, making inroads at the networks and the White House. Even though it often took him three weeks to trip across a fact that would produce a single line of dialogue, he says research was “the most fun part” of the writing process. He attended press briefings, standing quietly in the back, taking notes on people’s shoptalk.

Watching Zirinsky at work, Brooks soaked up the chaos of daily news broadcasts. And thanks to a connection with the lobbyist Nancy Reynolds, he met with many members of the Reagan cabinet, spending several hours with the former national-security adviser Robert McFarlane.

“Jim had such good entree into the administration,” says Jane Mayer, who at the time covered the White House for The Wall Street Journal and is another model for the character of Jane Craig. “Before we knew it, he was going to all these parties. He never had to go up against the constraints of a real reporter. Washington just falls apart at the idea of the movies coming to town.”

The Time White House correspondent, Alessandra Stanley, met Brooks at a White House briefing. and after one cup of coffee, she says, she “wanted to tell him my life story. It was like being with a perfect therapist — the one you never find. Besides our being sycophantic about Hollywood types anyway, he was immensely solicitous and gratifyingly interested in everything we did, no matter how banal. He wanted to know what it’s like not to be married, all that Mademoiselle-magazine-type stuff. He’s fun, because he talks about how miserable and insecure he is, so you want to reach out.”

As Brooks scouted women’s apartments and met their friends and boyfriends, details began to accumulate about Jane Craig, the bachelorette whose days are ruled by a bulging Filofax. Brooks noticed many women casually saying, “So I went home, and I cried,” and made this into a comic turn in which Jane unplugs the phone once a day and allows herself a controlled bawl. Brooks was so thorough, says Zirinsky, that one night she attended a Washington dinner party at which there were six women who had all talked to Brooks — and each seemed to believe the movie would be about her.

For the character of Tom, Brooks drew party on a TV reporter he interviewed who had balked when his network tried to transfer him to a danger zone. The reporter told Brooks that “this network, this job and this profession, everything comes second. It’s my life and my kids.”

Brooks says he was fascinated: “There’s a dignity to a guy saying that, setting the priorities of his life straight. But it’s a shift. Fifteen or twenty years ago you’d be spit on for saying that. And if a lot of people do that, it changes the profession; it’s no longer a cathedral that we worship in and are meant to serve as the important part of our lives.” While women gravitate toward work-dominated lives, men are moving away.

The basis for Aaron, the third point of the triangle, was always clear in Brooks’s mind: he tailored it for his friend Albert Brooks, who says the only reason he’s never married is that “I just don’t think I could make it through a divorce.”

ALBERT AND JIM BROOKS AREN’T RELATED — Albert’s real last name is Einstein, believe it or not — but they should be. They share a sly, fatalistic wit, which Albert describes as “seeing the worst in anything, like old guys complaining,” and Jim refers to as “being able to see the joke in everything.”

Albert and Jim met in the early Seventies at the San Fernando Valley house of Penny Marshall and Rob Reiner, where an informal Friars Club of comedy people hung out. At the time, Albert was making his name on The Tonight Show doing brilliant bits like the mime who narrates every action in a bad French accent.

“There are certain people you meet and know you’re going to be friends with them forever” says Albert, 40. “Jim was one of those.” When writing Broadcast News, Jim talked to Albert every day, partly to volley ideas, partly to make sure Albert was keeping himself free to be in the movie. If Albert mentioned that he was considering another project, he says, Jim’s face became that of “a very sad and worried person, with still a little bit of threatening in his jaw.”

JIM BROOKS CONTINUED HIS RESEARCH UNTIL he’d attended enough White House briefings that he could appreciate that they could also be dull routine, until he found himself getting emotionally involved, arguing issues and disseminating as much gossip as he was receiving.

Once the script was finished, in the spring of 1986, it had its critics. Though Fox was committed to whatever Brooks came up with, some executives had little enthusiasm for the project “Hollywood,” says Brooks, “is a very tough town to preserve this kind of ambition in. Maybe it always was. But there was a time when the business was like ‘Just find somebody young and let them do whatever they want, something crazy,’ because people were buying it! Right now they’re buying sequels, they’re buying genre, and they’re buying unoriginal.”

The project got a much-needed boost in July 1986, when William Hurt agreed to play Tom. As written, Tom was a bit of a soulless jerk getting by on his looks. The graceful, wide-ranging star of The Big Chill and Kiss of the Spider Woman added subtlety and, says Jim, “charisma, which is very hard to act.”

Not wanting Hurt to learn more about news than the novice Tom would know, Brooks says he purposely provided the actor with “tacky research.” He didn’t let Hurt near the network, continually making up excuses. Since Tom’s background was supposed to be sportscasting, Hurt hung out with the local New York sportscaster Carl White, which had little relevance to covering Capitol Hill. The filming was delayed five months to accommodate Hurt’s schedule, which included a successful stay at the Betty Ford Center.

Albert Brooks had already begun his research, mingling with the press during a presidential vacation in Santa Barbara, California; he met with Zirinsky, obtained a press pass and later attended the Voyager landing, recording tapes and taking pictures. Every once in a while someone would recognize him and ask what he was doing, and he’d mutter something about working on “a routine about two people who can’t land.”

Meanwhile, time was getting short, and finding someone to play Jane was becoming like the search to fill the glass slipper. Brooks had written the part with Debra Winger in mind, but she was pregnant. So for six months he saw a blur of actresses: Sigourney Weaver, Mary Beth Hurt, Elizabeth Perkins, Elizabeth McGovern, Anjelica Huston and Jessica Lange. The night before Brooks was about to sign someone, he spoke to the casting agent Juliet Taylor for the “umpteenth” time; when he used the word feisty, Taylor said, “You should see Holly Hunter.”

“This is the classic story of how Jim’s unhappiness benefits him,” says Polly Platt. “He wouldn’t give up. Not because nobody’s good enough for him but because he has to keep trying, because it’s all this money and three years of his life.”

Hunter had just flown home to New York from acting in a TV movie in Louisiana. She read Brooks’s script and was daunted by how well the character was written. “This is truly extraordinary,” she told a friend, “and I am not in a billion million years right for it.”

Hunter, 29, tended to get typecast because of her petiteness and the Georgia accent that leaks from the side of her mouth: besides Raising Arizona and a small part in Swing Shift, she was mainly known for her New York stage work in Beth Henley plays, like The Miss Firecracker Contest. “I was seen as a girl who wore plaid shirts and was raised on a farm,” Hunter says, “not a corporate or career woman.”

Filled with doubt, Hunter went to the Mayflower Hotel, in Manhattan, at 9:00 a.m. in early December, and when Jim Brooks came in the room, he first mistook her for a researcher. But as she began reading with Hurt, and Brooks began to direct them, her tenacity and humor came through. They wound up acting out most of the script over the course of the next two hours. As soon as Hunter got home, Brooks called and said, “We miss you; we wish you hadn’t left.” The next day she went to Jim’s apartment to read with Albert, but it never happened: instead, Hurt showed up toting some champagne, and Hunter was welcomed aboard.

The day after, Jim began a week of intense improvisation with the actors in the Mayflower Hotel room. Though Jim says he never saw Hunter’s confidence waver, the actress was secretly terrified: “I could barely handle the responsibility — it happened too fast.” To make matters worse, she is deaf in one ear, and when rehearsals began, an infection was hampering her hearing in the other. “There I was,” she says, “trying to get into this monster part with three strangers — the Three Biggies — and I was deaf on top of it. I felt like I was hallucinating.”

In late December, Holly and Albert took the train to Washington together. There they developed the friendship that translates so naturally to the screen and absorbed as much as they could of network news processes. “Holly caught things in two months,” says Jim, “that I didn’t catch in two years.” She crammed a news background, reading three papers a day and taking notes, going so far as to write herself a ninety-page summary of the Iran-contra affair.

Hunter also trailed Zirinsky around news rooms, editing rooms and control rooms. “The people who were good were beautiful to watch,” she says. “That 6:30 deadline — they lived for it, they loved it. They’d practically wait to start putting their piece together until the last minute: they all had these kinds of dances they’d do. I saw a lot of people savagely yell at one another, a tremendous amount of tension, fighting back and forth, people being hung up on. Then the show would be over, and everything would be cool: ‘Hey, you know, I’m stupido’ — never ‘Sorry, I lost my head.’ It was all in a day’s work, and nobody took it personally.”

Albert hung out on Capitol Hill with TV reporters Bill Plante, Phil Jones and Jacqueline Adams; one night, Zirinsky says, she was having trouble with a story, and Albert leaned over and corrected a line of copy. By the end of January the actors had become as enmeshed in the news milieu as their director and were ready to go.

BEFORE JIM BROOKS EVER WAS a director, he played one in a movie. In 1981’s Modern Romance, Albert Brooks (who also wrote and directed) plays a film editor, and he cast Jim as his boss, a maniacal sci-fi schlock director. Jim’s character is completely obsessed with the idea that if some footsteps are made to sound a certain way, his entire movie will be saved. Besides teaching how paranoid directors can get, the role showed Jim the actor’s perspective.

“There’s no way you can imagine what it’s like to be in front of those cameras unless you do it,” says Jim. “Hearing Albert not say, ‘Print it,’ when I thought it was my best take, hearing him say, ‘Cut,’ when I was just getting going. You need to know that; I hope I can remember so I don’t have to do it again.”

In Broadcast News these jobs were reversed, and their unique director-actor relationship became clear early on: the crew was initially shocked to see them yell at each other. But soon Albert assumed the role of set jester, which proved a necessity, because when Jim Brooks directs, his already high pitch goes a few notches higher. If something was going wrong, he’d become deathly silent and rub his face. “He’s extremely intense,” says Jack Nicholson, who has a cameo as network anchor Bill Rorish, “like an army against anything that can go wrong with the movie.”

Although Brooks was warm with his actors and his cinematographer, Michael Ballhaus, and editor, Richard Marks, he could get nasty with others. “I don’t think the crew was in love with Jim,” says one observer. “He’s not the kind of guy who goes around and kisses everybody at the end of a scene. He’s very withdrawn. He’s an actor’s director, and everything else is tangential.”

“I’m not a morale officer,” says Brooks by way of defense. “All of our efforts are focused on the actors. That’s just common sense to me.”

“Jim is a great, great audience,” says Albert, “and if you’re a great audience, actors will love you.”

Through it all, Jim Brooks was obsessed with keeping things authentic. He shot the film sequentially, so the actors could track the characters’ emotions. And Zirinsky was on hand, moonlighting as technical adviser, writing some of the news pieces, helping with background dialogue and directing video news pieces with the actors.

During filming, Brooks got an eerie confirmation of how accurately he’d done his homework: the day they shot the scene in which Jane’s boss is fired because of budget cuts, word reached the set that CBS had just eliminated a large number of jobs. “It wasn’t like déjà vu,” says Hurt, “it was like vu-vu!”

Washington continued romancing the movie. Nancy Reynolds had a dinner at her house for Brooks, some of the cast and Ronald and Nancy Reagan. “All of us were reduced to like a fourteen-year-old girl seeing the Beatles,” says Albert. Jim was his usual inquisitive self, asking questions about living in the White House and the lure of Washington. “It was like the greatest civics class anybody ever had,” he says. And when the phone rang and one of the dozens of Secret Service men announced, “Howard Baker on the line,” Jim Brooks said, “Who does he want?” and was the only one who laughed, uproariously, at his joke.

THE FILM’S ISSUES OF COMMITMENT and personal sacrifice became life and death for the actors. The most-rehearsed scene was the long yelling confrontation between Aaron and Jane, in which she admits her love for Tom and Aaron tells her that Tom represents everything she abhors, calling him “the devil.” The scene is Brooks’s writing at its best: Aaron is delivering what could be seen as the movie’s theme, though his motives are less than pure — he’s trying to win the woman he loves. And, as he says, he’s “semiserious.”

But the question “Is Tom the devil?” hovered over the set. The crew pasted pictures of devils on the walls; every day when Hurt arrived on the set, he’d say, “Jim, is Tom the devil?” Brooks would say, “Stop it!” And Hurt would say, “Well, you brought it up.”

While Tom does have slippery morals and is more salesman than newsman, the answer is not so simple. “If Tom is the devil,” says Hurt, “he’s the devil they choose to live with. They all work with the system.”

“I don’t know if Tom is the devil,” Albert Brooks says, “but he’s certainly riding in the devil’s limo, one of the people the devil tells, ‘Hey, run in and get me a pack of cigarettes.’ “

“I WAS FRIED SIX WEEKS AGO — I haven’t a creative impulse left.” These are the first words out of Jim Brooks’s mouth on Halloween, the final day of editing on Broadcast News at Soundstage D in Warners’ Hollywood studios. But after months of piecing together takes, he is as cogent as ever. He grabs whoever is around and records them performing background dialogue, making them mimic him until they get it exactly right.

Brooks’s contract, which was fairly standard, called for Broadcast News to be shorter than two hours (otherwise, he’d lose control over the final cut). But the first cut was three hours and twentyfour minutes, and a bit of a mess. At three hours, Brooks says, “I really liked it; at 2:40, it was really terrible. I was trying to hold on to everything, but shorter, and that didn’t work.”

After closely monitoring eight screenings with test audiences, he reduced it to two hours and thirteen minutes, but it was still the movie Jim Brooks wanted to make. And when he first watched it, he was shocked: after all the worry about “fundamental changes” and being current, he found he could envision Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn playing the roles, saying the same lines. “It walks in the tradition of romantic comedy,” he says, marveling, “and you could have pretty much filmed and cast it forty years ago. I just can’t believe that that’s true — and I like that it is. There may be some footsteps of humanity going on.”

Of course, there’s still a music cue at the very, very end that isn’t quite right. “I’ll always hear that, that fucking thing,” Brooks says. “And at the moment I’m looking at the end of the movie, I’ll always drink it could be drat much better. After all this time. So that’s that.”

“HEY, PIA! PIA! PIA!” It’s Thanksgiving 1987, and Jim Brooks is shouting out his window at the top of his lungs at Pia Zadora as she rides a Macy’s-parade float down Central Park West. The Brookses’ New York apartment has been transformed into a grandstand; giant Woody Woodpecker and Kermit balloons float surreally past the windows at eye level, while friends like Mary Kay Place, Carol Kane, Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman circulate among an astounding number of loose toddlers, including Chloe and Cooper Brooks.

It’s an annual rite whose main focus is trying to get the various B-level celebrities riding by below to look up and wave; this year, between celebs, Brooks discusses the Broadcast News newspaper ad with a Fox executive, Larry Mark. When Emmanuel Lewis rides by, Jim rushes the window, crying, “HEY EMMANUEL! HEY, WEBSTER!” to no avail. But he does catch Ben Vereen’s eye, and when Santa sleds by, Brooks and DeVito take turns hollering, “SANTA! HEY, SANTA!” and finally, “HEY, RALPH!” With that, Santa looks up and waves, and Brooks chortles, hoarse and content.

There are other signs that Jim Brooks is finally relaxing. A few days after Thanksgiving, he screens Broadcast News for a class at the School of Visual Arts led by his friend Ralph Appelbaum, who had given him notes on the screenplay. Afterward, Appelbaum, Jim, Holly Hunter and Albert Brooks (wearing his UNTITLED jacket) take seats on the stage and field questions from the predominantly middle-aged audience.

“These characters are so deeply felt,” says an audience member. “How much did they spill over to real life? How long did it take to get back to being Holly Hunter and Albert Brooks?”

“Well,” says Holly, looking at Albert deadpan, “I don’t know about you, but personally, I didn’t feel a thing.” “None of it was really felt for me,” says Albert, picking up her lead. “And to be honest, I was back to Albert Brooks the second day of shooting. That was my little secret.”

The audience titters, then, in a delayed reaction, Jim Brooks starts to laugh. It starts quietly, then continues to grow till it fills the room: “Ha-ha-HA-HA-HAHAHAHAHA!” And, at least for a brief moment, Jim Brooks couldn’t be happier.

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