Early Career (1968-1975) –
His first professional TV job came when he was hired to do one of the segments for the 1969 pilot episode of Night Gallery. The segment, "Eyes," starred Joan Crawford , and she and Spielberg were reportedly close friends until her death. The episode is unusual in his body of work, in that the camerawork is more highly stylized than his later, more "mature" films. After this, and an episode of Marcus Welby, M.D, Spielberg got his first feature-length assignment: an episode of The Name of the Game called "
2017." This futuristic science fiction episode impressed Universal Studios and they signed him to a short contract. He did another segment on Night Gallery and did some work for shows such as Owen Marshall : Counselor at Law and The Psychiatrist before landing the first series episode of Columbo (previous episodes were actually TV films). L.A.
Based on the strength of his work, Universal signed Spielberg to do four TV films. The first was a Richard Matheson adaptation called Duel about a monstrous tanker truck which tries to run a small car off the road. Special praise of this film by the influential British critic Dilys Powell was highly significant to Spielberg's career. Another TV film (Something Evil) was made and released to capitalize on the popularity of The Exorcist, then a major best-selling book which had not yet been released as a film. He fulfilled his contract by directing the TV film length pilot of a show called Savage, starring Martin Landau. Spielberg's debut theatrical feature film was The Sugarland Express, about a married couple who are chased by police as the couple tries to regain custody of their baby. Spielberg's cinematography for the police chase was praised by reviewers, and The Hollywood Reporter stated that "a major new director is on the horizon." However, the film fared poorly at the box office and received a limited release.
Studio producers Richard Zanuck and David Brown offered Spielberg the director's chair for Jaws, a thriller-horror film based on the Peter Benchley novel about an enormous killer-shark. Spielberg has often referred to the grueling shoot as his professional crucible. Despite the film's ultimate, enormous success, it was nearly shut down due to delays and budget over-runs.
But Spielberg persevered and finished the film. It was an enormous hit, winning three Academy Awards (for editing, original score and sound) and grossing $470,653,000 worldwide at the box office. It also set the domestic record for box office gross, leading to what the press described as "Jawsmania." Jaws made him a household name, as well as one of America's youngest multi-millionaires, and allowed Spielberg a great deal of autonomy for his future projects. It was nominated for Best Picture and featured Spielberg's first of three collaborations with actor Richard Dreyfuss.