As fans of Paul Thomas Anderson already know, the early part of his career found him in fruitful collaboration with producer/musician/genius Jon Brion, who scored the director’s first four films. And while Brion is very well regarded as a producer (working with Fiona Apple, Kanye West, Of Montreal and many others), he’s also earned great acclaim as a live musician, particularly through his concerts at famed venue Largo. Coupling an almost savant-like multi-instrumental ability with an encyclopedic knowledge of music history, Brion has dazzled many with his shows, and somebody thought his talents would be good for TV. That somebody was Paul Thomas Anderson.
Right around 1999/2000 Anderson helmed a pilot for VH1 entitled “The Jon Brion Show” (natch), that was a test run at a variety show that would be led by Brion. They called in some musical guest favors with Elliot Smith and Brad Mehldau appearing (Brion worked a handful of tracks with the former, and produced albums Largo and Highway Rider for the latter), but the network turned it down. Nevertheless, Anderson pursued it himself, backing and shooting three test episodes that ultimately are still sitting in the archive.
Perhaps feeling nostalgic, Anderson posted his own copy of the pilot in full to his YouTube channel today for your viewing pleasure. It’s definitely worth a look to see what could have been, and what will likely never be. Afterward, you can check out the VH1 version that has been bouncing around the web for a while, which features Eels and Grant-Lee Phillips among the guests. Head over to Cigarettes & Red Vines for a bit more background including how Bette Midler randomly got involved. “The Master” is out on DVD and Blu-ray next month, but this should tide you over until then.