The year was 1975 and the United States' independent Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) had scored a great deal with the British Broadcasting Company: PBS picked up (dirt cheap) two seasons of "Monty Python's Flying Circus" - an English ensemble comedy show starring John Cleese, Michel Palin and the rest of the Monty Python cast members. American television was not prepared for the cast members zany blend of stand-up comedy, animation and brief comedy sketches. In short order they took the North America by storm. PBS continued airing Monty Python for the next several years. It was perfect timing for the cast members, who found they now had a built in audience for their first feature film "Monty Python and the Holy Grail".
When the Holy Grail made big money for the cast members, Monty Python suddenly found themselves in big demand on both sides of the Atlantic. Led by John Cleese and Michael Palin, the cast members of Monty Python quickly set to work on their next cinematic masterpiece: "Monty Python's Life of Brian" which broke down all the conventions of the New Testament in the same way the Holy Grail slew the Legend of King Arthur. The result: another hit for the cast members.
The success of the feature films and their comedy show (which at this point was now only playing re-runs) gave the cast members a chance to break out of the box. Graphic artist and director Terry Gilliam -- whose witty animations were such an integral part of both the Monty Python TV show and the movies -- broke away from the group to follow his muse and set about following a course of directing and producing.
The other cast members followed suit. The first solo outing paired Terry Gilliam and Michael Palin in the Gilliam-directed Jabberwocky (1977). John Cleese and Eric Aidle put out a solo comedy albums. To keep the momentum going, the movie Monty Python
Live came to theatres and did brisk business.
In the long run though, the individual cast members could not quite replicate the success of the entire group. John Cleese and Michael Palin went to work scripting what was to be the next Monty Python film an the result was Monty Python's Meaning of Life. It proved to be another hit for the cast members but also proved to be the group's swan song. At this point they'd been performing together for well over ten years and the impact of maturity and the need to conquer new horizons was biting at the heels of all the cast members.
Terry Gilliam, who had already broke ground by directing Jaberwocky, would continue on, writing, producing and directing several modest hits during the next 20 years to include "The Fisherman King" with Robin Williams, Brazil, and 12 Monkeys with Brad Pitt. John Cleese began appearing in several high profile roles including "A Fish Called Wanda" (1988), but the most famous role he undertook may be that of the master gadget man "Q" in the James Bond franchise. Of the other cast members, Terry Gowns took to producing and directing documentaries and Gram Chapman died of AIDS in 1989.
Fast forward to 2003 and an idea was proposed to reform Monty Python for the new millennium, Mike Palin rejected the idea saying without Gram Chapman there could be no Flying Circus.
To this day the popularity of Monty Python is all but ensured. With the advent of video cassettes and now DVD's, new generations can enjoy the zaniness of the Monty Python TV Show and movies. While the cast members enjoy a steady stream of secondary income thanks to TV and cinema residuals.