BURROWS, JAMES

U.S. Director/Producer

James Burrows is one of the few television directors who has made the successful transition to producer. He became one of the top sitcom directors at MTM Productions, the company founded by Mary Tyler Moore and Grant Tinker. Later, as well working as the resident director for Taxi, Burrows helped form the independent production company responsible for the long-running NBC series Cheers. His critically acclaimed directing and production talents have won numerous awards, including seven Emmies.

One of Burrow's first goals was to establish an identity separate from that of his famous father, Abe, who had written the books for a number of successful musicals, including Guys and Dolls and How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying. Ironically, the senior Burrows had also written for the popular 1930s radio series Duffy's Tavern, which, like Cheers, was set in a bar. While this did not inspire the younger Burrows to duplicate that situation in Cheers, his father's work on a stage adaptation of Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffanys, which starred Mary Tyler Moore, did lead James Burrows to an informal meeting with MTM President Grant Tinker. At that time, the younger Burrows was known simply as "Abe's kid."

In 1974, while directing theater in Florida, Burrows asked Tinker for a job at MTM and was hired him to observe other MTM sitcom directors, with his first assignment being The Bob Newhart Show. Tinker recounts in his autobiography, Tinker in Television, that as Burrows became more comfortable with his role as observer, he began drawing closer to action on the Bob Newhart set, causing Newhart to turn to his producer and demand, "Get that guy out of here. He makes me nervous."

This incident marked a significant turning point in Burrows' career, for Tinker responded by teaming Burrows with MTM's veteran director Jay Sandrich. The two hit it off immediately, and Burrows proved a quick study. Today he is considered as accomplished a director as Sandrich himself. Like Sandrich, he developed a directing style sensitive to the specific needs of the weekly sitcom format, which includes actors who already have a deep understanding of the characters they portray. Burrows' goal is to make his actors "director proof," so that subsequent directors do not erode the developed, established personae.

Burrows stayed with MTM until 1977, gaining directing experience on every sitcom they produced, including The Bob Newhart Show. He then joined MTM alumni James L. Brooks, Stan Daniels, David Davis and Ed. Weinberger on the series Taxi, for which he directed 76 episodes. Because Taxi had such a large set, Burrows became one of the first directors to use four cameras simultaneously, an adaptation of the three-camera system that had been a staple of sitcom production since I Love Lucy. A testament to his talent, Burrows won Emmies in both 1980 and 1981 for his Taxi efforts.

In 1982, Burrows, along with Glen and Les Charles, formed the Charles-Burrows-Charles Company and created and produced Cheers. Lasting into the 1990s, Cheers allowed Burrows, now in the role of producer, to carry on the tradition of quality television established two decades earlier at MTM. Although the Charles-Burrows-Charles Company disbanded after Cheers voluntarily retired, Burrows has continued working as a director for such sitcoms as Wings, Flesh 'N' Blood, Friends, and News Radio.

-Michael Kassel

JAMES BURROWS. Born in Los Angeles, California, U.S. 30 December 1940. Education: Oberlin College, B.A.; Yale University, M.F.A. Directed some off-Broadway productions; MTM Productions, 1974-77, directed episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show, Rhoda, Phyllis, Taxi, Lou Grant; Dear John (pilot), Night Court; with Glen and Les Charles, formed Charles-Burrows-Charles Company, 1982; co-creator and co-executive producer, as well as director of Cheers; further directing credits include Wings (pilot); Roc (pilot); episodes of Flesh 'N' Blood, Friends, and News Radio. Recipient: Directors Guild of America award for comedy direction, 1984; Emmy awards NATAS for director in comedy series, for Taxi, 1979-80, 1980-81; for Cheers, 1982-83, 1990-91; Emmy award as co-producer of Cheers, 1982-83, 1983-84, 1989-90. Address: c/o Paramount TV Productions 5555 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90038.

TELEVISION SERIES (as Director of various episodes)

1970-71 The Mary Tyler Moore Show
1972-78 The Bob Newhart Show
1974-78 Rhoda
1975-77 Phyllis
1977-82 Lou Grant
1978-83 Taxi
1982-93 Cheers (also, co-creator, co-executive producer)
1984-92 Night Court
1988 Dear John (pilot)
1991 Flesh 'N' Blood
1994-- Friends
1995-- Caroline in the City
1995-- News Radio

MADE-FOR-TELEVISION MOVIES

More Than Friends, 1978

FILM (director)

Partners, 1982

FURTHER READING

Lovece, Frank, and Jules Franco. Hailing Taxi. New York: Prentice Hall, 1988.

Sackett, Susan. Prime Time Hits. New York: Billboard, 1993.

Sorensen, Jeff. The Taxi Book. New York: St. Martin's, 1987.

Tinker, Grant, with Bud Rukeyser. Tinker in Television. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994.

Van Hise, James. Cheers: Where Everybody Knows Your Name. Las Vegas: Pioneer, 1993.

 

See also Bob Newhart Show; Cheers; Mary Tyler Moore Show; Taxi