After producing hit movies for a decade, Brian Grazer got his first blue-chip TV credit in 1998 on HBO’s “From the Earth to the Moon.” On the heels of Grazer and partner Ron Howard’s Oscar-nominated “Apollo 13,” the show offered a finely detailed look at the early space program. It had the trappings of a big-budget film and a cast headed by Tom Hanks — novelties at a time when the big and small screens seldom mixed. The show’s win for miniseries kicked off a fertile TV phase for Grazer, who went on to produce such shows as “24,” “Arrested Development” and “Friday Night Lights.” This year, he and Howard are back in the hunt with National Geographic’s Albert Einstein limited series “Genius.”
Because you produced some television early on, did you go to the Emmys before 1998?
I did, but not as a nominee. I was way out there in the peripheral seats.
So what was it like to be there with “From the Earth to the Moon”?
I felt like a stranger in a strange land. I had no idea what was going to happen. When we got nominated, I thought, “What does that mean?” When I got nominated for an Oscar for co-writing the “Splash” screenplay, I felt the same thing. A friend of mine called me and said, “You’re nominated for an Oscar!” And I go, “What do you mean?” I said, “Wow, me personally?! Wow, OK.” “From the Earth to the Moon” was the same sort of weird, worldly event. It was so bizarre. It was amazing, but I thought, “What is the implication of this?” I couldn’t compute it emotionally.
What do you remember from the ceremony?
Tom Hanks was so amazing at it, so we were drafting off of his energy and skill set. It was one of those out-of-body experiences. You’re in the passenger seat of a Formula One race car. Tom is just driving that car. He’s racing through the mountains, through the forest, sharp corners, completely calm. It’s like he’s Jackie Stewart or something.
Did you go to the after-parties?
It was a sea, a large population, of congratulations. You just kind of react. It was cool. For me personally, as Brian, it’s more humbling than anything else. Instead of feeling really heady and euphoric, you feel calm and humbled. It’s a great human moment.
The show was a landmark for HBO and for limited series in general. Did you sense that on that night?
I did feel like I was part of something new because the HBO people created a context for it. I wasn’t part of their inner strategy. But they did have a strategy. They were willing to spend a lot of money to do this very high-quality series about purposeful world and subject. They invested in many hours — with movie people! — so we felt like, wow, this is really hip. The intentionality wasn’t to win Emmys. We were aiming to expose audiences to the enormity of space travel as we did in “Apollo 13.”
Did winning your first Emmy change the experience of going to the show?
When we have gone for “24,” “Arrested,” “Friday Night Lights,” I have become much more aware of it. It’s less like my first visit to a foreign country. I don’t take it for granted at all — the opposite, in fact. But it’s not as humbling as it was the first time. The feeling now is, “Wow, these are all the people that I’m trying to do the same thing with. Let’s drink and see what happens.” It’s more festive, more like a party to me. It’s festive and it’s fun and maybe you’ll win the raffle.