Reelin’ In the Years Lands 1000 Hours of Brian Linehan Interviews for Licensing

Brian Linehan archives
Courtesy of Brian Linehan Archives

Although most Americans are unfamiliar with the Canadian talk show host Brian Linehan, the stage, screen and TV artists he interviewed over the course of 25 years is a veritable who’s who of show business. Those subjects range from filmmakers George Cukor and Elia Kazan to Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg; from such elusive on-screen performers as Warren Beatty, Barbra Streisand and Russell Crowe to Jane Fonda, Meryl Streep and Leonardo DiCaprio.

Now those 1,000-plus hours of filmed interviews are available to scholars, museums and filmmakers via Reelin’ In the Years Productions — an company known for its exhaustive archives from other talk show personalities like Merv Griffin and David Frost — that recently signed an exclusive representation deal with The Brian Linehan Charitable Foundation.

Proceeds from the licensing of these filmed interviews, many of them from Linehan’s Toronto-based TV show, “City Lights,” which ran from 1973 to 1989, will go back into the The Brian Linehan Charitable Foundation, to “provide training, work opportunities and promotion for young actors of exceptional talent,” according to the Foundation’s director Michael A. Levine.

Recipients of the Foundation’s support have included young actors affiliated with the Canadian Film Centre, The National Screen Institute of Canada, the Stratford Shakespearean Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival, which just ended over the weekend.

Linehan, who died in 2004, was known for his exhaustive research and seriousness of purpose, often surprising his subjects with the depth of his knowledge about their work. His urbane interviewing style might be considered a cross between James Lipton and Charlie Rose.

“Brian would do an incredible amount of research on his own, long before he ever sat down and in front of the camera,” Reelin’ In The Years founder and president David Peck told Variety. “He had that luxury because his interviews were never done before an audience. So, if they were in the studio, it was one on one, or frequently they were on location somewhere. It’s a different kind of thing when you have an audience; you have to play to the audience. And I guess in many ways Brian was ‘Inside the Actors Studio’ before there was ‘Inside the Actors Studio.’”

In an interview with the late Robin Williams in 1984 right he made “Moscow on the Hudson,” Linehan makes the connection between Williams and that film’s director, Paul Mazursky — who trained and worked as an actor and comedian before stepping behind the camera — who also braved the stage as a stand-up at places like The Hungry i and The Blue Angel.

In Linehan’s chat with Dustin Hoffman in 1988, the actor talks about how when he first read ‘Death of a Salesman’ he thought it was the story of his own family.

And in a discussion with actor-director Streisand from 1983 timed to the release of “Yentil,” Streisand addresses her so-called perfectionism: “It’s a terrible responsibility when a studio gives you $14.5 million dollars to make a movie,” she told Linehan. “Art is discipline; art has boundaries; art has limits. You have to create this scene, but you have X amount of dollars to do it and you have X amount of time. That’s life; life is compromise; life is imperfection. So, my so-called ‘perfectionism’ is quite realistic about the imperfection and perfection.”

Peck says he takes a curatorial approach to licensing the copyrighted works he represents. “We’re pretty careful in the way we (allow people) to use it,” he said. “If you’re doing something tabloid where you’re just going to slam the artist because you can, I’m not interested. But if you’re going to celebrate the artist’s work and show them in the light they should be shown in, then we’ll licence (the material). These artists didn’t sit down for interviews or do standup so that 20 or 30 or 40 years later, it can be thrown in their face. Even if they did something to warrant that, it’s just not me.”

Peck says he pored through hundreds of hours of Linehan material that was stored on 1” tape and, later, Betacam video cassettes, and found them in remarkably pristine condition.

“I found an interview from 1983 of Jim Carrey,” Peck recalls. “He had not done a single film; he was just a standup comic. He might’ve done something for HBO at that point. But that was it. And here he is in a half-hour interview with Brian Lineahan. I forgot he was Canadian.”

Peck says Reelin’ In the Years charges by the minute for its footage, but pricing is not uniform.
“It really depends on the media,” he said. “If you’re doing a standard documentary, and it’s a 10-year license or something, that’s one thing. If you’re using it for a museum, (the cost) would be much lower. If you’re using it in a television commercial, that’s much higher.”

But he also cautions that he doesn’t own the license to the talents’ image, which must be secured by the licensee, only the copyright to the interview footage.

“There are a lot of rights involved,” he said, “and it’s up to the person using (the footage) to clear those rights when he or she is making a film.”