Family & Companions
A journeyman character actor, Jere Burns made his initial mark as the ultra-smarmy, unabashedly sexist wolf of the situation comedy "Dear John" (NBC, 1988-92). Burns' angular features and Rasputin-intense gaze led to an early-career niche in unsavory one-off and recurring television roles in the 1980s, but he would put a gleefully lecherous spin on unsavory in his breakthrough role of Kirk Morris on "Dear John." From that success, he would become comic foil on a succession of ultra-short-lived comedies such as "Bob" (CBS, 1992-93), "The Mommies" (NBC, 1994-95) and "Surviving Suburbia" (2009), as well as two seasons of the office ensemble "Good Morning, Miami" (NBC, 2002-04). In 1996, he took a rare lead on the family comedy "Something So Right" (NBC/ABC, 1996-98). Burns worked regularly along the way in dramatic one-off roles. In 2010, he seemed to begin a new phase, breaking away from sitcoms to effect colorful, scene-stealing supporting roles on some of cable's best-regarded dramas: a drug rehab group leader on "Breaking Bad" (AMC, 2009-13), a vicious Southern criminal on "Justified" (FX, 2010-15), and an ever scheming member of a beyond-the-law syndicate on "Burn Notice" (USA, 2007-2013), before returning to his comic roots as the caustic Lieutenant Atkins on the surreal police procedural parody "Angie Tribeca" (TBS 2016- ). Whether playing comic or dramatic roles, Burns showed a chameleon-like penchant for reinventing himself with every new character in a variety of mediums.
He was born Jerald Eugene Burns II on Oct. 15, 1954 in Cambridge, MA, the first of four sons of a homemaker and a maker of graduations caps and gowns. Burns did some acting in high school but did not initially view it as a career path. After graduating high school, he decided to log some life experience, working stints as a life guard on Cape Cod, a cabbie in Boston and doing some low-budget touring of Europe. In 1976, he matriculated at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, MA, and it was there he discovered his penchant for acting, though mostly as a minor pursuit to his comparative literature major. After he graduated in 1980, he moved to New York, where he worked on an MFA Tisch School of the Arts and picked up stage work, doing some off-Broadway shows and garnering as his most auspicious credit the title role in a version of "Don Juan" for the New York Shakespeare Festival. He landed a small part in an "ABC Afterschool Special" (1972-1997) in 1984 and decided to take a shot at more TV work, so moved to Los Angeles. The relocation proved fruitful as he almost immediately landed a part as a serial rapist in a short arc on the groundbreaking urban drama "Hill Street Blues" (NBC, 1981-87). He picked up some minor movie roles and by1986, had acquired a healthy run of one-off jobs on primetime series. In 1987, he took on another heel, a mercenary criminal who disposes of dead bodies for wicked cohorts on the proto-cyberpunk sci-fi series "Max Headroom" (ABC, 1987-88). In 1988, Burns landed the part that would make his face famous.
On the Judd Hirsch-anchored situation comedy "Dear John," Burns played Kirk Morris, an inveterate, lascivious sexist and grudgingly tolerated buddy of Hirsch's more even-keeled, recently divorced protagonist, with their friendship being the result of meeting in a divorce support group. Burns played Kirk with such incorrigible sleaze that People magazine referred to Kirk as "every woman's worst nightmare: the lascivious shark in gold chains, loud sport shirt and polyester suit, hell-bent on targeting the nearest 'broadski' or femme.the biggest, funniest, sleaziest slime ball on primetime TV, and.the main reason NBC's 'Dear John' has become one of only three new series to crack the Nielsen Top 10." The show lasted four seasons and garnered Burns more work, netting him some supporting roles in B-features and some telefilm work. But once "Dear John" shuttered, his comedic imprint made him in demand as the designated comic lightning rod in TV comedy. On two separate occasions, producers brought Burns in to add some texture to flagging shows, a corporate weasel on the short-lived Bob Newhart vehicle "Bob" (CBS, 1992-93) and a snarky stay-at-home dad on "The Mommies" (NBC, 1994-95). In 1994, he earned a slot in an impressive ensemble of comic actors playing an avaricious family vying for a rich uncle's fortune in the Michael J. Fox/ Kirk Douglas-centered comedy "Greedy" (1994). Burns broke out of the character actor groove in 1996, donning more of a straight role as a teacher and once-married dad combining families with a twice-married mom (Mel Harris) on the short-lived series "Something So Right" (NBC/ABC, 1996-97).
The latter years of the century and first of the next saw him as a prolific guest-star on primetime television; the occasional first- or second-billed male lead in TV movies, highlighted by his turn as dad to a young girl (Lindsay Lohan) who brings her fashion doll to life (Tyra Banks) in the Disney/ABC family flick "Life-Size" (2000), and occasionally returning to his bad-guy ways, notably with his evil Hollywood mogul in the Paul Hogan feature "Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles" (2001). Network television called again in 2002, and he was paired with Suzanne Pleshette to add some added veteran traction to the young office ensemble centered around a struggling local TV morning show in "Good Morning, Miami." Burns made his Broadway debut in 2005, playing multiple roles in Elaine May's "After the Night and Music," but the play received tepid notices and closed after 38 performances. In 2006, he joined a comic cast that included Tim Meadows, Jane Lynch and Jane Kaczmarek, supporting Ted Danson's turn as a renowned therapist in need of some help himself in "Help Me Help You," but the firepower was not enough to keep the series afloat past 14 episodes.
In 2007, Burns returned to Broadway, joining the cast of the long-running musical "Hairspray." His next sitcom fared poorly as well, with Burns taking the part of a wacky next-door neighbor to Bob Saget on the ABC sitcom "Surviving Suburbia," which the network axed after a short summer run as a mid-season replacement show. Burns meanwhile started picking up more dramatic guest roles. When he popped up in a recurring role on AMC's breakthrough crime drama "Breaking Bad," few recognized him as the soft-spoken, empathic leader of Jesse Pinkman's drug rehab support group, his character's benign surface belying a tragic circumstance of his own drug-abusive past. Also that year, he went dark again with a guest-shot on FX's critically adored crime drama "Justified," on which Burns played a murderous capo in the Dixie Mafia with such creepy and sadistic relish that he became a fan favorite as a regular nemesis of Timothy Olyphant's character, Raylan Givens, in ensuing seasons. Seemingly finding a groove as a heel, in 2011 Burns joined the fifth season of USA Network's hit spy drama "Burn Notice" in another recurring role as a psychiatrist and Machiavellian master of subterfuge pulling strings for the mercenary black ops organization complicit in the "burning" protagonist Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan). Burns next appeared in the recurring role of Jake Abernathy on the thriller prequel "Bates Motel" (FX 2013-17) before returning to his comic roots with a co-starring role as order-barking police lieutenant Atkins on the "Airplane!"-like deadpan comedy "Angie Tribeca" (TBS 2016- ), created by Steve Carell and Nancy Walls Carell.
By Matthew Grimm
Cast (Feature Film)
After high school, traveled Europe and worked as a lifeguard and cab driver before starting college
Made Off-Broadway debut in "Don Juan" (date approximate)
Had early TV role in Afterschool Special, "Mom's On Strike"
Moved to Los Angeles; played unrepentant rapist on "Hill Street Blues" episodes
Made feature film debut, "Touch and Go"
Had recurring role on "Max Headroom"
Played Kirk Morris on the NBC sitcom "Dear John"
Co-starred in miniseries "Luck of the Draw: The Gambler Returns"
Joined cast of CBS sitcom "Bob"
Joined cast of NBC sitcom "The Mommies"
Starred as Mel Harris' husband in "Something So Right" (NBC, 1996-1997; ABC, 1997-98)
Acted on stage opposite Susan Blakely in premiere of play "Diva"
Starred on the series "Good Morning, Miami"
Starred on the series "Help Me Help You"
Starred on the series "Surviving Suburbia "
Played the recurring role of the group leader on "Breaking Bad"
Took on the role of Wynn Duffy on the series "Justified"
Played the recurring role of Anson on "Burn Notice"
Joined the cast of the series "Angie Tribeca"