Ghosts of Ghostbusters: Bernie Brillstein

By Di Golding

Mailed on August 27, 2014

Dear Bernie Brillstein
Executive Producer

Dear Bernie,

I knew who you were even before Ghostbusters. Which, considering I was eleven years-old at the time, either says a lot about your reputation, or says a lot about what an odd kid I was.

I'd seen your name on the credits of Hee-Haw, The Muppet Show, and Saturday Night Live. I read that you became John Belushi's manager by accident when he refused to sign his SNL contract minutes before the first show went to air. He would commit only if you, Lorne Michaels' manager, represented him. You agreed, and Belushi became your first star client.

You broke a lot of ground in the late-70s and early-80s. You convinced Atlantic Records to pony up a hundred-and-twenty-five grand to produce an album by the as-yet-unknown Blues Brothers. You were one of the first to profit from packaging TV shows, hiring your own writers to create projects, then filling them with your own stars, and executive producing the programs yourself. After selling them to networks, this scheme guaranteed you a producing credit and points on the back end. Until you gamed the system, an exec producer was largely a figurehead. But, by packaging talent, you held all the cards. It's a tactic that has since become the industry standard, and one you carried on into the 1990s with shows like The Sopranos, Politically Incorrect, and The Larry Sanders Show.

Some might consider that approach a little too close to bribery. But no one seemed to mind it coming from you. By all accounts you were a real mensch. While you were busy reinventing the wheel and trying to keep Belushi from killing himself, Dan Aykroyd had been developing a script for him and Belushi to star in. It was set in a future, where teams of ghost disposal units were as common as firefighters and paramedics. He called it Ghost Smashers. After Belushi's passing, Aykroyd and Harold Ramis reworked the script, and Aykroyd pitched it to you. As a testament to just how trusted you were, Aykroyd sold it to you for a dollar.

After it was passed over by several studios and directors who just didn't get it, the film, retitled Ghostbusters, went on to make over $291 million worldwide.

Your dollar investment paid off. But more than that, it made you the original gatekeeper of Zuul.

Well played, sir.


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