Albert Brooks Claims He Came Up With The Format For Saturday Night Live

Despite turning down Michaels for a permanent gig, Brooks did indeed join SNL after a fashion, providing the show with several short films that he made. (For you youngsters, imagine an early incarnation of the SNL Digital Short, but on film!) These shorts inspired Brooks to continue his pursuit of directing, eventually leading to his tackling a full-length feature film.

Interestingly, it’s Brooks’ first movie, 1979’s “Real Life,” that may actually have pioneered a television format instead of his rejection of Michaels’ offer. Inspired by the 12-part PBS series “An American Family” (shot in 1971, aired in ’73), Brooks took that docuseries’ concept of film cameras following the daily exploits of real people and expanded it in classic comedic fashion. Playing himself, Brooks approaches the fictional (but real in the film’s canon) family, the Yeagers (led by Charles Grodin and Frances Lee McCain) with an offer to follow and film them through their lives. Brooks soon realizes that he and his crew will need to manipulate the family behind the scenes in order to obtain more exciting footage.

“Real Life” doesn’t just act as a perfect example of a Mockumentary, a format that has only increased in popularity over the decades — it also establishes a pretty typical formula for what “reality TV” became, especially during its early years in the beginning of the 21st century. Whether intentional or not, whether it’s the whole truth or not (when it comes to SNL), it’s clear that Albert Brooks is at least partially responsible for shaping some of the current entertainment landscape.

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