He’s won an Oscar, a Grammy, four Emmys, nine Tonys, three BAFTAs and many other awards, yet Mike Nichols has never been the subject of a documentary . . . pretty surprising since the director, actor, writer, producer and comedian was such an artistic trailblazer. As the legendary comedy duo Nichols and May, Nichols and his partner Elaine May revolutionized comedy in the late ’50s and early ’60s. Now, May has directed the first documentary about her former partner, “Mike Nichols: American Masters”, premiering Friday, January 29, 2016, at 9 p.m. on PBS. (Check local listings.) The film launches the 30th anniversary season of the “American Masters” series. Here’s a trivia tidbit: Nichols, born Mikhail Igor Peschkowsky in Germany, was the first comedian born outside the United States to win a Granny for the Nichlos/May debut comedy album.
With charm and wit, Nichols discusses his life and 50-year career as a performer and director. “Mike Nichols: American Masters” features new interviews with his friends and colleagues, including Meryl Streep, Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, Dustin Hoffman, Alec Baldwin, Paul Simon, Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane, Bob Balaban, Tony Kushner, Neil Simon, Frank Langella, James L. Brooks and many others, conducted by film, TV and theater producer Julian Schlossberg, who also conducted an exclusive interview with Nichols for the film before Mike died in 2014. The documentary features insights and highlights from Nichols’ acclaimed films, including “The Graduate”, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”, “Catch 22”, “Silkwood”, “Biloxi Blues”, “Working Girl”, “Angels In America” and “Charlie Wilson’s War”, as well as his theatrical productions “Barefoot in the Park”, “Luv” and “The Odd Couple.”
“Producing this special was a labor of love. Working with Elaine May was a nightmare,” says Schlossberg, who has produced many of May’s plays. “Julian Schlossberg was very nice and he really seemed to like me,” says May. Adds Michael Kantor, executive producer of “American Masters”: “Elaine and Julian can joke about each other because they’ve known each other for 40 years, and their work together has been so successful. What seems to unite them in both humor and friendship is a deep love and respect for Mike Nichols and his legacy, They are the perfect team for this documentary.” Also a perfect team: Diane Sawyer, who was married to Nichols since 1988,
The series’ 30th anniversary season continues with new documentaries about music legends B.B. King (February 12), Carole King (February 19), Fats Domino (February 26), Loretta Lynn (March 4), Janis Joplin (May 3) and The Highwaymen (May 27).
Launched in 1986, “American Masters” has earned 28 Emmy (including 10 for Outstanding Non-Fiction Series since 1999 and five for Outstanding Non-Fiction Special), 12 Peabodys, an Oscar, three Grammys, two Producers Guild Awards and many other honors. To take American Masters beyond the television broadcast and further explore the themes, stories and personalities of masters past and present, the series’ companion website (pbs.org/americanmasters) offers streaming video of select films, interviews, photos, outtakes, essays and more.