Ed Driscoll

Longtime Manager Bernie Brillstein Dead At 77

Nikke Finke notes that the man who brought you the man who brought you Saturday Night Live, longtime Hollywood powerhouse Bernie Brillstein has passed away at age 77. Brillstein managed Lorne Michaels, the creator and longtime executive producer of Saturday Night Live, along with John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, Jim Henson, and numerous other people who brought you the 1970s and ’80s.

There’s a passage in Finke’s obit that could be taken the wrong way though:

In 1970, Brillstein left Management 3 and moved to Los Angeles, where he decided to go it alone. He built up a list of top comedy writers, including The Bob Newhart Show’s Tom Patchett and Jay Tarses and comedy writers Lorne Michaels and Alan Zweibel, and he packaged them all into new TV shows for the networks. By 1975, Brillstein was one of the hottest personal managers and TV packagers in the entertainment business. In that year alone, he sold both The Muppet Show, brainchild of puppeteer Jim Henson, and Saturday Night Live, created by Lorne Michaels. The story behind SNL is now legendary, but it bears repeating: when Michaels and Brillstein came to pitch the idea of SNL to NBC, the network executives simply stared at the men. “They said, ‘Who are these Jews from California?’ They absolutely hated us,” Brillstein remarked.

It’s a great line, and it’s true that the staid management of NBC had vastly mixed feelings about Lorne Michaels until his show became a ratings hit and cultural phenomenon. (The latter happening before the former.) But it’s worth noting that, just glancing at the photo section in Doug Hill and Jeff Wingrad’s Saturday Night, NBC’s management at the time consisted of men such as Herb Schlosser, Dave Tebet, Mike Weinblatt, and Aaron Cohen. If such a quote actually was uttered at the meeting, I doubt there was any antisemitism behind it.