SANDRICH, JAY

U.S. Director

The 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.

The 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."

In 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...."

Sandrich 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.

During 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.

Although 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."

-Tinky "Dakota" Weisblat


Jay Sandrich
Photo courtesy of Jay Sandrich

JAY 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, U.S.A.

TELEVISION SERIES (selection)

1965-70 Get Smart (producer)
1967-70 He and She
1970-77 The Mary Tyler Moore Show
1972-78 The Bob Newhart Show
1975-77 Phyllis
1976-78 The Tony Randall Show
1977-79 Soap
1977-79 Benson
1984-92 The Cosby Show
1985-92 Golden Girls
1988-95 Empty Nest
1992-95 Love and War (pilot only)
1993-94 Thea
1994 The Office
1995-96 The Jeff Foxworthy Show
1996 London Suites

FILMS

Seems Like Old Times, 1980; For Richer, For Poorer, 1992.

FURTHER READING

Kuney, Jack. Take One: Television Directors on Directing. New York: Greenwood, 1990.

Meisler, Andy. "Jay Sandrich: Ace of Pilots." Channels (New York), October 1986.

Ravage, John W. Television: The Director's Viewpoint. Boulder, Colorado: Westview, 1978.

 

See also Comedy Programs, Domestic Settings; Comedy Programs, Workplace Settings; Cosby Show, The; Dick Van Dyke Show, The; Director in Television; Get Smart; I Love Lucy; Mary Tyler Moore Show, The; Our Miss Brooks; Tinker, Grant