James Burrows

Director


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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About
About this interview

In his three-and-a-half-hour Archive interview, James Burrows discusses his early years working as a stage manager under his father, playwright/director Abe Burrows, and outlines his years directing for the stage in regional theater. He recalls his break into television directing, working at MTM Productions on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and describes directing Fay, The Bob Newhart Show, Laverne & Shirley, and Phyllis. He details working with the cast and creative team behind Taxi, and directing the majority of the series' episodes. Burrows chronicles the eleven-year run of Cheers, which he co-created with Glen & Les Charles, and for which he directed nearly every episode. As one of the pre-eminent directors of sitcom pilots, Burrows shares what he looks for in selecting a pilot and explains what drew him to directing the pilot episodes of Night Court, NewsRadio, and 3rd Rock From the Sun. He talks of working on the early seasons of Frasier, Friends, and Caroline in the City, and speaks of the joy of being the sole director of the hit series, Will & Grace. Gary Rutkowski conducted the interview on December 17, 2003 in Los Angeles, CA.

"You have to achieve that moment, when it makes you laugh. You have to get to that moment and you have to work it until you get to that moment. You have to know why it's not working and you have to be able to give the actors, if they have suggestions for how to make it work, you have to listen to them, not dismiss them. It's like clay; you have to form it."

Highlights
James Burrows on the series finale of Cheers
02:22
James Burrows on the theme song and titles to Cheers
03:44
James Burrows on getting hired to direct Taxi
02:13
James Burrows on one of the biggest laughs he's ever seen - on Friends
01:47
James Burrows on why Will & Grace can get away with some of the topics it covers; on being involved with a somehwat political show
02:32
James Burrows on how he'd like to be remembered
00:21
Full Interview

Chapter 1

On his childhood and early influences; on the nickname Danny DeVito gave him; on his parents divorce when he was five; on moving from LA to NY; on his father, playwright/director Abe Burrows; on being on Person to Person when he was a child; on meeting celebrities when he was young; on his mother and sister; on his father being called before the House Un-American Activities Commission 
On his hobbies as a child; on not wanting to get into show business; on attending Oberlin College and the Yale School of Drama; on moving to LA to be the dialogue coach on a pilot his father had written; on meeting Mel Brooks; on interviewing and returning to the theater; on working on Holly Golightly  
On doing dinner theater; on running a theater in San Diego; on getting his first job on The Mary Tyler Moore Show; on learning multicamera directing from watching The Bob Newhart Show

Chapter 2

On watching The Bob Newhart Show and The Mary Tyler Moore Show; on learning from Jay Sandrich on The Mary Tyler Moore Show; on his first time directing The Mary Tyler Moore Show; on directing The Bob Newhart Show; on directing more episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show
On directing Phyllis; on directing Lou Grant; on directing a pilot for Steven Bochco; on on directing Laverne & Shirley; on directing for the short-lived sitcom Fay  and Rob Reiner's Free Country; on learning a lot about directing from Rob Reiner

Chapter 3

On getting hired to direct Taxi; on having the same agent for over 30 years; on the cast and opening sequence of Taxi; on the challenges of being the series director of Taxi;  on meeting up again with Les and Glen Charles; on the writers and specific episodes of Taxi
On Andy Kaufman's "Latka" and "Tony Clifton" on Taxi; on Danny DeVito's "Louie De Palma"; on the four camera setup on Taxi; on the cancellation of Taxi; on forming a production company with Les and Glen Charles

Chapter 4

On the origin of Cheers; on casting Ted Danson and Shelley Long on Cheers; on NBC Executives being concerned about Cheers being set in a bar; on the look of the bar
On "Norm's" position in the bar; on casting George Wendt as "Norm"; on casting "Coach" and "Cliff Clavin" on Cheers; on the theme song and titles to Cheers; on a typical work week on Cheers; on keeping the energy up; on the writers room on Cheers; on the ratings the first season; on winning Emmys and feeling like the show was a hit

Chapter 5

On Cheers winning Emmys and gaining in popularity; on specific episodes of Cheers; on Kelsey Grammer as "Frasier Crane" on Cheers; on Shelley Long leaving and Kirstie Alley joining the cast of Cheers; on "Woody" getting maried
On casting Woody Harrelson as "Woody" on Cheers; on memorable guest stars on Cheers; on the series finale; on the legacy of Cheers; on Frasier; on working with Kelsey Grammer; on Frasier's farcical elements

Chapter 6

On guest stars on Frasier; on the popularity of the show; on directing Friends and knowing it would be a hit; on the ensemble cast of Friends; on one of the biggest laughs he's ever seen - on Friends; ; on bonding with the cast in Las Vegas 
On leaving Friends for Caroline in the City  - a show from his production company Three Sisters; on Union Square and Will & Grace; on the humor and diversity on Will & Grace

Chapter 7

On the characters of "Jack" and "Karen" on Will & Grace; on guest stars on the show; on directing every episode of Will & Grace;  on how Will & Grace has been perceived in the gay community; on where the show was headed at that time; on how he selects which pilots he will do; on working on the pilots of many successful series
On wishing The Goodbye Girl had become a successful series; on his proudest career achievement; on advice to aspiring directors; on making cameos in shows he directs; on how he'd like to be remembered
Shows

3rd Rock From the Sun

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James Burrows on working on the pilot of 3rd Rock From the Sun
01:48

Bob Newhart Show, The (1961-62)

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James Burrows on learning multicamera directing from watching The Bob Newhart Show
01:25
James Burrows on directing The Bob Newhart Show
04:44

Caroline in the City

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James Burrows on leaving Friends for Caroline in the City
02:35

Cheers

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James Burrows on the origin, casting, and typical work week of Cheers
29:32
James Burrows on the rising popularity of Cheers and some memorable episodes
21:30
James Burrows on the "Showdown" episode of Cheers in which Sam's brother appears - 2 part episode - and "Sam" and "Diane" kiss at the end
02:13
James Burrows on Shelley Long's last episode of Cheers  
00:37
James Burrows on his favorite epiosde of Cheers
01:12
James Burrows on Kirstie Alley joining the cast of Cheers
06:29
James Burrows on the series finale of Cheers
02:22
James Burrows on guest-stars on Frasier, some crossover actors from Cheers
01:01

Cheers: "Diane's Perfect Date"

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James Burrows on his favorite epiosde of Cheers
01:12

Cheers: "One for the Road"

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James Burrows on the series finale of Cheers
02:22

Cheers: "Showdown"

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James Burrows on the "Showdown" episode of Cheers in which Sam's brother appears - 2 part episode - and "Sam" and "Diane" kiss at the end
02:13

Dharma & Greg

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James Burrows on working on the pilot of Dharma & Greg
00:18

Fay

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Director James Burrows on directing for the short-lived sitcom Fay
00:42

Frasier

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James Burrows on Cheers spin-offs: Frasier
06:36
James Burrows on guest-stars on Frasier; some crossover actors from Cheers
04:44
James Burrows on "My Coffee With Niles" episode of Frasier
00:51

Frasier: "My Coffee with Niles"

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James Burrows on "My Coffee With Niles" episode of Frasier
00:51

Free Country

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James Burrows on directing Free Country
02:02

Friends

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James Burrows on directing Friends  and knowing it would be a hit; on the cast
10:53

George & Leo

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James Burrows on working on the pilot of George & Leo
00:14

Goodbye Girl, The

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James Burrows on wishing The Goodbye Girl had become a successful series
02:06

Hogan Family, The aka Valerie

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James Burrows on working on the pilot of Valerie
00:27

Jesse

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James Burrows on working on the pilot of Jesse
00:16

Laverne & Shirley

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James Burrows on directing Laverne & Shirley
03:01

Lou Grant

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James Burrows on directing Lou Grant
01:21

Mary Tyler Moore Show, The

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James Burrows on getting his job on The Mary Tyler Moore Show  
04:18
James Burrows on learning from Jay Sandrich on The Mary Tyler Moore Show
03:51
James Burrows on his first time directing The Mary Tyler Moore Show
07:04
James Burrows on directing more episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show
01:27

NewsRadio

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James Burrows on working on the pilot of NewsRadio
01:05

Night Court

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James Burrows on working on the pilot of Night Court
00:50

Person to Person

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James Burrows on being on Person to Person when he was a child
01:22

Phyllis

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James Burrows on directing Phyllis
03:59

Taxi

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James Burrows on getting his nickname "Beads" from Danny DeVito
00:56
James Burrows on getting hired to direct Taxi; on the cast
03:33
James Burrows on the opening sequence of Taxi
01:19
James Burrows on the challenges of being the series director of Taxi
02:40
James Burrows on the writers of Taxi
02:45
James Burrows on "Latka" getting married on Taxi
02:25
James Burrows on directing Taxi
25:44

Two and a Half Men

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James Burrows on working on the pilot of Two And a Half Men
00:38

Veronica's Closet

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James Burrows on working on the pilot of Veronica's Closet
00:13

Will & Grace

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James Burrows on directing and casting Will & Grace
04:46
James Burrows on the humor and jokes on Will & Grace
05:50
James Burrows on the cast of Will & Grace ;  on how Will & Grace has been perceived in the gay community' on the future of the show
06:10

Wings

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James Burrows on working on the pilot of Wings
00:25
Topics

Censorship / Standards & Practices

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James Burrows on NBC Executives being concerned about Cheers being set in a bar
01:46
James Burrows on Standards and Practices having issues with some jokes on Will & Grace
03:18

Characters & Catchphrases

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James Burrows on Andy Kaufman's "Latka" and "Tony Clifton" on Taxi
05:49
James Burrows on Danny DeVito's "Louie De Palma" on Taxi
00:59
James Burrows on casting George Wendt as "Norm" on Cheers
01:44
James Burrows on casting "Cliff Clavin" on Cheers
00:58

Emmy Awards

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James Burrows on Cheers  winning Emmys and feeling like the show was a hit
02:17
James Burrows on Cheers winning Emmys
01:35

Hollywood Blacklist

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James Burrows on his father being called before the House Un-American Activities Commission 
01:01

LGBTQ

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James Burrows on why Will & Grace can get away with some of the topics it covers; on being involved with a somehwat political show
02:32
James Burrows on Standards and Practices having issues with some jokes on Will & Grace
03:18
James Burrows on how Will & Grace has been perceived in the gay community
00:34
Professions

Directors

View Profession
James Burrows on attending the Yale School of Drama and wanting to become a director
01:49
James Burrows on learning from Jay Sandrich on The Mary Tyler Moore Show
03:51
James Burrows on directing every episode of Will & Grace
01:30
Genres

Comedy Series

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James Burrows on getting his job on The Mary Tyler Moore Show  
04:18
James Burrows on his first time directing The Mary Tyler Moore Show
07:04
James Burrows on directing Laverne & Shirley
03:01
James Burrows on directing The Bob Newhart Show
04:44
James Burrows on the challenges of being the series director of Taxi
20:52
James Burrows on the origin, casting, and typical work week of Cheers
29:32
James Burrows on memorable episodes of Cheers; on Shelley Long leaving and Kirstie Alley joining the cast
21:30
James Burrows on the Cheers spin-off, Frasier
06:36
James Burrows on Will & Grace
10:36
James Burrows on directing Friends  and knowing it would be a hit; on the cast
10:53
James Burrows on working with Lea Thompson on Caroline in the City
02:35
James Burrows on the cast of Will & Grace ;  on how Will & Grace has been perceived in the gay community' on the future of the show
06:10
People

Edward Albee

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James Burrows on meeting celebrities when he was a child
00:42
James Burrows on working on Holly Golightly  
04:46

Kirstie Alley

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James Burrows on Kirstie Alley joining the cast of Cheers
06:29

Jennifer Aniston

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James Burrows on the ensemble cast of Friends
03:19

Lauren Bacall

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James Burrows on meeting celebrities when he was a child
00:42

Steven Bochco

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James Burrows on directing a pilot for Steven Bochco
00:33

Mel Brooks

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James Burrows on meeting Mel Brooks
00:35

James L. Brooks

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James Burrows on getting hired to direct Taxi
02:13
James Burrows on loving the script for Taxi
02:17
James Burrows on the writers of Taxi
02:10

Abe Burrows

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James Burrows on his father, playwright/director Abe Burrows
05:31
James Burrows on his father being called before the House Un-American Activities Commission 
01:01
James Burrows on learning from his father
01:11

Dick Cavett

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James Burrows on memorable guest stars on Cheers
01:22

Richard Chamberlain

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James Burrows on working on Holly Golightly  
02:52

Les Charles

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James Burrows on forming a production company with Les and Glen Charles
00:48
James Burrows on meeting up again with Les and Glen Charles, co-creators of Cheers
05:10
James Burrows on the writers room on Cheers
01:15
James Burrows on the origin of Cheers and the characters "Sam Malone" and "Diane Chambers"
03:40
James Burrows on Les and Glen Charles wanting a black bartender for "Sam Malone" on Cheers
00:49
James Burrows on the Cheers spin-off, Frasier
02:15

Glen Charles

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James Burrows on forming a production company with Les and Glen Charles
00:48
James Burrows on meeting up again with Les and Glen Charles, co-creators of Cheers
05:10
James Burrows on the writers room on Cheers
01:15
James Burrows on the origin of Cheers and the characters "Sam Malone" and "Diane Chambers"
03:40
James Burrows on Les and Glen Charles wanting a black bartender for "Sam Malone" on Cheers
00:49
James Burrows on the Cheers spin-off, Frasier
02:15

John Cleese

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James Burrows on memorable guest stars on Cheers
01:22

Nicholas Colasanto

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James Burrows on casting "Coach" on Cheers
01:49

Jeff Conaway

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James Burrows on the cast of Taxi
00:27

Bill Cosby

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James Burrows on Les and Glen Charles wanting a black bartender for "Sam Malone" on Cheers
00:49

Courteney Cox

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James Burrows on the ensemble cast of Friends
03:19

David Crane

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James Burrows on meeting Friends creators David Crane and Marta Kauffman
00:48

Matt Damon

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James Burrows on guest stars on Will & Grace
01:23

Stan Daniels

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James Burrows on loving the script for Taxi
02:17

Ted Danson

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James Burrows on the origin of Cheers and the characters "Sam Malone" and "Diane Chambers"
01:58
James Burrows on casting Cheers
04:29

Tony Danza

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James Burrows on the cast of Taxi
00:27

Dave Davis

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James Burrows on loving the script for Taxi
02:17
James Burrows on Dave Davis wanting to shoot with 4 cameras on Taxi
01:14

Danny DeVito

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James Burrows on getting his nickname "Beads" from Danny DeVito
00:56
James Burrows on Danny Devito on Taxi
00:31
James Burrows on "Latka" getting married on Taxi
02:25
James Burrows on Danny DeVito's "Louie De Palma" on Taxi
00:59

Joan Fontaine

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James Burrows on first seeing The Mary Tyler Moore Show when directing Joan Fontaine 
04:18

Kelsey Grammer

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James Burrows on Kelsey Grammer as "Frasier Crane" on Cheers
01:44
James Burrows on the Cheers spin-off, Frasier
03:35

Woody Harrelson

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James Burrows on casting Woody Harrelson as "Woody" on Cheers
01:44

Sean Hayes

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James Burrows on casting Will & Grace
02:10

Marilu Henner

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James Burrows on the cast of Taxi
00:27

Judd Hirsch

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James Burrows on the cast of Taxi
00:27
James Burrows on working on the pilot of George & Leo
00:14

Marta Kauffman

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James Burrows on meeting Friends creators David Crane and Marta Kauffman
00:48

Andy Kaufman

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James Burrows on "Latka" getting married on Taxi
02:25
James Burrows on Andy Kaufman's "Latka" and "Tony Clifton" on Taxi
05:49

Lisa Kudrow

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James Burrows on Lisa Kudrow being cast as the original "Roz" on Frasier
01:06
James Burrows on the ensemble cast of Friends
03:19

Cloris Leachman

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James Burrows on directing Phyllis
03:59

John Lithgow

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James Burrows on working on the pilot of 3rd Rock From the Sun
01:48

Christopher Lloyd (actor)

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James Burrows on the cast of Taxi
00:27
James Burrows on "Latka" getting married on Taxi
02:25
James Burrows on Christopher Lloyd
01:20

Shelley Long

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James Burrows on casting Cheers
04:29

Chuck Lorre

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James Burrows on working on the pilot of Dharma & Greg
00:18
James Burrows on working on the pilot of Two And a Half Men
00:38

Penny Marshall

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James Burrows on directing Laverne & Shirley
03:01

Garry Marshall

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James Burrows on directing Laverne & Shirley
03:01

Groucho Marx

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James Burrows on meeting celebrities when he was a child
00:42

Eric McCormack

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James Burrows on casting Will & Grace
02:10

Debra Messing

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James Burrows on directing and casting Will & Grace
04:46
James Burrows on casting Will & Grace
02:10

Robert Moore

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James Burrows on learning multicamera directing from watching The Bob Newhart Show
01:25

Mary Tyler Moore

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James Burrows on working on Holly Golightly  
04:46
James Burrows on getting his job on The Mary Tyler Moore Show  
04:18
James Burrows on learning from Mary Tyler Moore on The Mary Tyler Moore Show
00:21
James Burrows on his first time directing The Mary Tyler Moore Show
07:04

Megan Mullally

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James Burrows on directing and casting Will & Grace
04:46

Edward R. Murrow

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James Burrows on being on Person to Person when he was a child
01:22

Bob Newhart

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James Burrows on directing The Bob Newhart Show
04:44
James Burrows on working on the pilot of George & Leo
00:14

Tom Patchett

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James Burrows on directing The Bob Newhart Show
02:39

Matthew Perry

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James Burrows on the ensemble cast of Friends
03:19

David Hyde Pierce

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James Burrows on working with David Hyde Pierce, "Niles Crane"
01:32

Sydney Pollack

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James Burrows on guest stars on Will & Grace
01:23

Tom Poston

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James Burrows on directing The Bob Newhart Show
04:44

John Ratzenberger

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James Burrows on casting "Cliff Clavin" on Cheers
00:58

Rob Reiner

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James Burrows on directing Free Country
02:02
James Burrows on getting hired to direct Taxi
02:13

Paul Sand

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James Burrows on running lines with comic Paul Sand
00:34

Jay Sandrich

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James Burrows on learning from Jay Sandrich on The Mary Tyler Moore Show
03:51

Jay Tarses

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James Burrows on directing The Bob Newhart Show
02:39

Brandon Tartikoff

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James Burrows on NBC Executives agreeing with his casting choices for Cheers
01:04

Lea Thompson

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James Burrows on working with Lea Thompson on Caroline in the City
02:35

Grant Tinker

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James Burrows on geting to know Mary Tyler Moore and Grant Tinker while working on Holly Golightly  
01:54
James Burrows on getting his job on The Mary Tyler Moore Show  
04:18
James Burrows on his first time directing The Mary Tyler Moore Show
10:55
James Burrows on NBC Executives agreeing with his casting choices for Cheers
01:04

Ed. Weinberger

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James Burrows on loving the script for Taxi
02:17

George Wendt

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James Burrows on casting George Wendt as "Norm" on Cheers
01:44

Cindy Williams

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James Burrows on directing Laverne & Shirley
03:01

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