career of Jay Sandrich, a leading director of American situation
comedies, covers much of the first few decades of the sitcom. His
programs have been characterized by wit, a supportive working environment,
and care for his actors.
son of film director Mark Sandrich, Jay Sandrich began his television
work in the mid-1950s as a second assistant director with Desilu
Productions, learning to direct television on I Love Lucy, Our
Miss Brooks, and December Bride. Later he worked on both
The Danny Thomas Show and the Dick Van Dyke Show.
In 1965, Sandrich put in his only stint as a producer, serving as
associate producer for the first season of the innovative comedy
Get Smart. He enjoyed the experience but vowed to stick to
directing in future. He told Andy Meisler of Channels magazine,
"I really didn't like producing. I liked being on the stage. I found
that, as a producer, I'd stay up until four in the morning worrying
about everything. As a director, I slept at night."
1971, he signed on as regular director for the relationship-oriented,
subtly feminist Mary Tyler Moore Show, beginning a long-term
partnership with the then fledgling MTM Productions. Directing two
thirds of the episodes in the program's first few seasons, he won
his first Emmys and worked on the pilot for the program's spin-off,
Phyllis. In an interview for this encyclopedia, he spoke
glowingly of the MTM experience: "[MTM chief] Grant [Tinker] created
this wonderful atmosphere of being able to have a lot of fun at
your work--plus you were working next door to people who were interesting
and bright. And there was this feeling of sharing talent...."
went on to work as a regular director on the satirical Soap and
eventually created another niche for himself as the director of
choice for The Cosby Show from 1985 to 1991. Meisler's article
painted an appealing portrait of the director's relationship with
the star and with other Cosby production personnel, quoting
co-executive producer Tom Werner on the show's dynamics: "Although
we're really all here to service Bill Cosby's vision, the show is
stronger because Jay challenges Bill and pushes him when appropriate."
Sandrich was proud of the program's pioneering portrayal of an upper-class
Black family, and of its civilized view of parent-child relations.
and following Cosby's run, Sandrich directed pilots and episodes
for a number of successful programs, including The Golden Girls,
Benson, Night Court, and Love and War.
he ventured briefly into the field of feature films, directing Seems
Like Old Times in 1980, Sandrich decided quickly that he preferred
to remain in television. "The pace is much more interesting," he
explained. "In features you sit around so much of the time while
lighting is going on, and then you make the picture, and you sit
around for another year developing projects. I like to work. I like
the immediacy of television." Asked whether there was a Jay Sandrich
type of program, Sandrich ruminated, "I don't know if there is,
but I like more human-condition shows, not really wild and farcy,
although Soap gave me really a bit of everything to do.... Basically,
I like men-women shows.... I go more for shows that have more love
than anger in them." Certainly most of his programs have lived up
to this inclination.
For many of his colleagues, Sandrich has defined the successful
situation-comedy director. "I think it was Jay who first made an
art form of three-camera film," said producer Allan Burns (quoted
in Meisler), referring to the shooting technique most often used
for sitcoms. Although he was modest about his own accomplishments,
and quick to note that good writing is the starting point for any
television program, Sandrich asserted that he cherishes his role
as director in a medium often viewed as the domain of the producer.
"If there's a regular director every week," he stated, "[television]
should be a major collaboration between the director and the producer--if
the director's any good--because he is the one who sets the style
and the tone of the show. He works with the actors. And a good director,
whether he is rewriting or not, he is always making suggestions
... and in many cases knows the script a little bit better than
the producer because he's been seeing each scene rehearsed and understands
why certain things work and why they don't.... So when it's a regular
director on a series, I think it's not a producer's medium. It is
the creative team [that shapes a series]."
In his early 60s at this writing, Sandrich still worked frequently
but denied that he was any longer the king of pilots for American
comedies. "I think Jimmy Burrows is the king," he said of his former
protégé. "He's gotten so many shows on the air. No, I think I'm
the dowager queen or something by now."
Photo courtesy of Jay Sandrich
SANDRICH. Born in Los Angeles, California, U.S.A., 24 February
1932. Educated at University of California Los Angeles, B.A. 1953.
Married 1) Nina Kramer, 1953 (divorced, 1974); two sons and one
daughter; 2) Linda Green, 1984. Started career as second assistant
director, I Love Lucy, Desilu Productions, 1955; then first
assistant director, I Love Lucy and The Danny Thomas Show;
director, MTM Productions, from 1971; currently director, primarily
for television. Recipient: Emmy Awards, 1971, 1973, 1985, and 1986;
DGA Awards, 1975, 1984, 1985, and 1986. Address: c/o Creative Artists
Agency, 9830 Wilshire Boulevard, Beverly Hills, California 90212,
Get Smart (producer)
1967-70 He and She
1970-77 The Mary Tyler Moore Show
1972-78 The Bob Newhart Show
1976-78 The Tony Randall Show
1984-92 The Cosby Show
1985-92 Golden Girls
1988-95 Empty Nest
1992-95 Love and War (pilot only)
1994 The Office
1995-96 The Jeff Foxworthy Show
1996 London Suites
Like Old Times, 1980; For Richer, For Poorer, 1992.
Kuney, Jack. Take One: Television Directors on Directing.
New York: Greenwood, 1990.
Andy. "Jay Sandrich: Ace of Pilots." Channels (New York),
John W. Television: The Director's Viewpoint. Boulder, Colorado:
Programs, Domestic Settings; Comedy
Programs, Workplace Settings; Cosby
Show, The; Dick
Van Dyke Show, The; Director
in Television; Get
Love Lucy; Mary
Tyler Moore Show, The; Our
Miss Brooks; Tinker,