Family & Companions
One of the most celebrated directors in television comedy history, James Burrows earned numerous Emmys for his crisp, fast-moving direction on such iconic series as "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" (CBS, 1970-77), "Taxi" (ABC/NBC, 1978-83), "Cheers" (NBC, 1982-93), which he also co-created, and "Will and Grace" (NBC, 1998-2006), among countless others. Burrows brought a quick-witted, theatrical pace to half-hour comedies that elevated them beyond the standard gags and banter to short plays that resonated with audiences beyond their weekly time slot. As a result, he became the go-to guy for both new and established shows to bring an element of style, wit and class to their seasonal lineup. In doing so, Burrows was among the most honored television directors in the medium's history and one of the few television directors average viewers recognized by name.
Born James Edward Burrows on Dec. 30, 1940 in Los Angeles, he was the son of Abe Burrows, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of such legendary musicals as "Guys and Dolls" and "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," and his wife, Ruth Levinson. Burrows grew up in New York City, where he would frequently accompany his father to his office and even pitch jokes for projects, but as he grew older, he expressed no desire to follow in his father's footsteps. He chose Oberlin College in Ohio for his higher education, where he majored in government. However, after graduating in 1962, he executed an about-face and pursued playwriting at the Yale School of Drama. In 1967, he served as assistant stage manager for "Holly Golightly," a musical adaptation of "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (1961). The production was a notable flop, but it introduced to Burrows to its star, Mary Tyler Moore, who would later be his conduit into directing for television.
In the early 1970s, Burrows was directing summer stock theater in Chicago and San Diego when he happened to see an episode of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." He called Grant Tinker, head of the show's production company, MTM, and also Moore's husband, in the hopes of landing work as a director on the series. Tinker hired Burrows in 1974, and he would go on to helm four episodes of Moore's show while gaining invaluable experience from observing its veteran directors and writing staff. By 1976, Burrows was directing other comedy programs, including the "Moore" spin-offs "Phyllis" (CBS, 1975-77), "Rhoda" (CBS, 1974-78) and "Lou Grant" (CBS, 1977-1982), as well as such successful sitcoms as "The Bob Newhart Show" (CBS, 1972-78) and "Laverne and Shirley" (ABC, 1976-1983). His direction was distinguished by its use of four cameras, instead of the traditional three, for expanded coverage and more complex blocking, as well as a breezy, near-screwball pace that had characters moving quickly and interacting while delivering their dialogue rather than remaining static and slinging one-liners.
In 1980, Burrows became the director of choice for "Taxi," a sitcom about blue-collar NYC taxi drivers that earned him his first Emmys for directing in both 1980 and 1981. A hit with critics and audiences alike, "Taxi" helped to elevate Burrows from journeyman director to one of the top creative forces in sitcoms, and granted him access to producing his own series. In 1982, he teamed with "Taxi" writers Glen and Les Charles to create "Cheers," a sitcom about the staff and regulars at a Boston bar. Though studio audiences responded favorably to the episodes, the show struggled in its freshman season, actually escaping cancellation simply because NBC had nothing else to air in its time slot. Eventually, its mix of dazzling writing and memorable characters found a diehard audience, which helped to make "Cheers" one of the most beloved sitcoms in television history. For Burrows, who directed all but 35 of the show's 275 episodes, the series brought him an additional four Emmys for direction, as well as a shared Outstanding Comedy series award in 1992. He would later go on to win a sixth direction Emmy for the "Cheers" spin-off, "Frasier" (NBC, 1993-2004), and helm episodes of such popular shows as "Friends" (NBC, 1994-2004), which his production company helped to oversee, "3rd Rock from the Sun" (NBC, 1996-2001) and "NewsRadio" (NBC, 1995-99), which would garner him three additional Emmy nominations.
Not everything Burrows touched turned to gold; his sole attempt at feature direction, the comedy "Partners" (1982), was a dismal misfire about gay and straight cops, and several of the shows he produced, including "All is Forgiven" (NBC, 1986) and "The Class" (CBS, 2006-07), failed to surpass their first season. However, "Will and Grace," which he co-produced with Max Mutchnick and David Kohan, was a runaway hit thanks to its stellar casting and writing, which harkened back to the heyday of "Cheers" and "Frasier." Burrows would share another Emmy with his producing partners for Outstanding Comedy Series in 2000, and his fourth Directors Guild of America win (the previous being for "Cheers" and "Frasier") with the series. The ground-breaking sitcom's popular run coincided with his Lifetime Achievement Award from the Banff Television Festival in 2003.
In 1998, Burrows returned briefly to theater direction with a production of "The Man Who Came to Dinner" at the prestigious Steppenwolf Theatre, which later moved to London's Barbicon Theatre. However, television was his main focus during this period, and he soon returned to duties on "Will and Grace," and later episodes of "The Big Bang Theory" (CBS, 2007- ), "Better with You" (ABC, 2010-11) and multiple episodes of "Mike and Molly" (CBS, 2010-16). In 2010, he was among the star-studded board of directors for The Comedy Awards, which honored humor in a variety of media.
Director (Feature Film)
Film Production - Main (Feature Film)
Misc. Crew (Special)
First theater job, assistant stage manager on "Holly Golightly", an unsuccessful Broadway production based on Truman Capote's "Breakfast at Tiffany's", starring Mary Tyler Moore and Richard Chamberlain; first met Moore
Directed episodes of the CBS sitcom, "Friends and Lovers"
Directed his first sitcom pilot, "Bumpers", starring Richard Masur; series was not picked up
Helmed episodes of "The Ted Knight Show"
Helmed episodes of "The Associates", an acclaimed but short-lived ABC sitcom
Feature directing debut, "Partners", a police comedy-drama starring Ryan O'Neal and John Hurt
Helmed the premiere of "Valerie", starring Valerie Harper (show later renamed "Valerie's Family" and still later "The Hogan Family")
Executive produced and helmed the premiere episode of "The Tortellis", a short-lived "Cheers" spinoff
Directed the premiere of the NBC sitcom, "Dear John", starring Judd Hirsch
Helmed the pilot/premiere episode of the hit NBC sitcom, "Wings" (NBC)
Directed the pilot outing of the Fox TV sitcom, "Roc" starring Charles Dutton
Helmed the pilot/premiere installment of "Frasier" (NBC)
Helmed the pilot/premiere of the popular sitcom "Friends" (NBC)
Directed the pilot/premiere and several episodes of the NBC sitcom "Caroline in the City"
Directed the pilot/premiere and several episodes of the Fox sitcom "Partners"
Directed the pilot/premiere of ABC sitcom "Hudson Street" starring Tony Danza
Directed the pilot/premiere of the sitcom "NewsRadio" (NBC)
Directed the premiere episode of "3rd Rock from the Sun" (NBC) starring Jane Curtin and John Lithgow
Helmed episodes of the NBC sitcom "Will & Grace"; earned Emmy nomination for the pilot; as of 1999-2000 season, became an executive producer
Staged a revival of the play "The Man Who Came to Dinner", starring John Mahoney at Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago; production transferred to Barbicon Theatre in London for brief run in July
Directed the pilot of the NBC sitcom "Stark Raving Mad"
Directed the pilot for the NBC sitcom "The Weber Show/Cursed", starring Steven Weber
Helmed the pilot for the ABC sitcom "Madigan Men"
Directed the Dexter Prep pilot