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."

People Talking About ...
Highlights
James Burrows on the series finale of Cheers
James Burrows on the theme song and titles to Cheers
James Burrows on getting hired to direct Taxi
James Burrows on one of the biggest laughs he's ever seen - on Friends
James Burrows on why Will & Grace can get away with some of the topics it covers; on being involved with a somehwat political show
James Burrows on how he'd like to be remembered
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

Bob Newhart Show, The (1961-62)

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

Caroline in the City

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James Burrows on leaving Friends for Caroline in the City

Cheers

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James Burrows on the origin, casting, and typical work week of Cheers
James Burrows on the rising popularity of Cheers and some memorable episodes
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
James Burrows on Shelley Long's last episode of Cheers  
James Burrows on his favorite epiosde of Cheers
James Burrows on Kirstie Alley joining the cast of Cheers
James Burrows on the series finale of Cheers
James Burrows on guest-stars on Frasier, some crossover actors from Cheers

Cheers: "Diane's Perfect Date"

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James Burrows on his favorite epiosde of Cheers

Cheers: "One for the Road"

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James Burrows on the series finale of Cheers

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

Dharma & Greg

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James Burrows on working on the pilot of Dharma & Greg

Fay

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

Frasier

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James Burrows on Cheers spin-offs: Frasier
James Burrows on guest-stars on Frasier; some crossover actors from Cheers
James Burrows on "My Coffee With Niles" episode of Frasier

Frasier: "My Coffee with Niles"

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James Burrows on "My Coffee With Niles" episode of Frasier

Free Country

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James Burrows on directing Free Country

Friends

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

George & Leo

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James Burrows on working on the pilot of George & Leo

Goodbye Girl, The

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

Hogan Family, The aka Valerie

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James Burrows on working on the pilot of Valerie

Jesse

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James Burrows on working on the pilot of Jesse

Laverne & Shirley

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James Burrows on directing Laverne & Shirley

Lou Grant

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James Burrows on directing Lou Grant

Mary Tyler Moore Show, The

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James Burrows on getting his job on The Mary Tyler Moore Show  
James Burrows on learning from Jay Sandrich on The Mary Tyler Moore Show
James Burrows on his first time directing The Mary Tyler Moore Show
James Burrows on directing more episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show

NewsRadio

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James Burrows on working on the pilot of NewsRadio

Night Court

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James Burrows on working on the pilot of Night Court

Person to Person

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James Burrows on being on Person to Person when he was a child

Phyllis

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James Burrows on directing Phyllis

Taxi

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James Burrows on getting his nickname "Beads" from Danny DeVito
James Burrows on getting hired to direct Taxi; on the cast
James Burrows on the opening sequence of Taxi
James Burrows on the challenges of being the series director of Taxi
James Burrows on the writers of Taxi
James Burrows on "Latka" getting married on Taxi
James Burrows on directing Taxi

Two and a Half Men

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

Veronica's Closet

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James Burrows on working on the pilot of Veronica's Closet

Will & Grace

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James Burrows on directing and casting Will & Grace
James Burrows on the humor and jokes on Will & Grace
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

Wings

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James Burrows on working on the pilot of Wings
Topics

Censorship / Standards & Practices

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

Characters & Catchphrases

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James Burrows on Andy Kaufman's "Latka" and "Tony Clifton" on Taxi
James Burrows on Danny DeVito's "Louie De Palma" on Taxi
James Burrows on casting George Wendt as "Norm" on Cheers
James Burrows on casting "Cliff Clavin" on Cheers

Emmy Awards

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James Burrows on Cheers  winning Emmys and feeling like the show was a hit
James Burrows on Cheers winning Emmys

Hollywood Blacklist

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

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
James Burrows on Standards and Practices having issues with some jokes on Will & Grace
James Burrows on how Will & Grace has been perceived in the gay community
Professions

Directors

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James Burrows on attending the Yale School of Drama and wanting to become a director
James Burrows on learning from Jay Sandrich on The Mary Tyler Moore Show
James Burrows on directing every episode of Will & Grace
Genres

Comedy Series

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James Burrows on getting his job on The Mary Tyler Moore Show  
James Burrows on his first time directing The Mary Tyler Moore Show
James Burrows on directing Laverne & Shirley
James Burrows on directing The Bob Newhart Show
James Burrows on the challenges of being the series director of Taxi
James Burrows on the origin, casting, and typical work week of Cheers
James Burrows on memorable episodes of Cheers; on Shelley Long leaving and Kirstie Alley joining the cast
James Burrows on the Cheers spin-off, Frasier
James Burrows on Will & Grace
James Burrows on directing Friends  and knowing it would be a hit; on the cast
James Burrows on working with Lea Thompson on Caroline in the City
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
People

Edward Albee

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James Burrows on meeting celebrities when he was a child
James Burrows on working on Holly Golightly  

Kirstie Alley

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James Burrows on Kirstie Alley joining the cast of Cheers

Jennifer Aniston

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James Burrows on the ensemble cast of Friends

Lauren Bacall

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James Burrows on meeting celebrities when he was a child

Steven Bochco

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James Burrows on directing a pilot for Steven Bochco

Mel Brooks

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James Burrows on meeting Mel Brooks

James L. Brooks

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James Burrows on getting hired to direct Taxi
James Burrows on loving the script for Taxi
James Burrows on the writers of Taxi

Abe Burrows

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

Dick Cavett

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James Burrows on memorable guest stars on Cheers

Richard Chamberlain

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James Burrows on working on Holly Golightly  

Les Charles

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James Burrows on forming a production company with Les and Glen Charles
James Burrows on meeting up again with Les and Glen Charles, co-creators of Cheers
James Burrows on the writers room on Cheers
James Burrows on the origin of Cheers and the characters "Sam Malone" and "Diane Chambers"
James Burrows on Les and Glen Charles wanting a black bartender for "Sam Malone" on Cheers
James Burrows on the Cheers spin-off, Frasier

Glen Charles

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James Burrows on forming a production company with Les and Glen Charles
James Burrows on meeting up again with Les and Glen Charles, co-creators of Cheers
James Burrows on the writers room on Cheers
James Burrows on the origin of Cheers and the characters "Sam Malone" and "Diane Chambers"
James Burrows on Les and Glen Charles wanting a black bartender for "Sam Malone" on Cheers
James Burrows on the Cheers spin-off, Frasier

John Cleese

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James Burrows on memorable guest stars on Cheers

Nicholas Colasanto

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James Burrows on casting "Coach" on Cheers

Jeff Conaway

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James Burrows on the cast of Taxi

Bill Cosby

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

Courteney Cox

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James Burrows on the ensemble cast of Friends

David Crane

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James Burrows on meeting Friends creators David Crane and Marta Kauffman

Matt Damon

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James Burrows on guest stars on Will & Grace

Stan Daniels

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James Burrows on loving the script for Taxi

Ted Danson

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James Burrows on the origin of Cheers and the characters "Sam Malone" and "Diane Chambers"
James Burrows on casting Cheers

Tony Danza

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James Burrows on the cast of Taxi

Dave Davis

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James Burrows on loving the script for Taxi
James Burrows on Dave Davis wanting to shoot with 4 cameras on Taxi

Danny DeVito

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James Burrows on getting his nickname "Beads" from Danny DeVito
James Burrows on Danny Devito on Taxi
James Burrows on "Latka" getting married on Taxi
James Burrows on Danny DeVito's "Louie De Palma" on Taxi

Joan Fontaine

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

Kelsey Grammer

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James Burrows on Kelsey Grammer as "Frasier Crane" on Cheers
James Burrows on the Cheers spin-off, Frasier

Woody Harrelson

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James Burrows on casting Woody Harrelson as "Woody" on Cheers

Sean Hayes

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James Burrows on casting Will & Grace

Marilu Henner

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James Burrows on the cast of Taxi

Judd Hirsch

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James Burrows on the cast of Taxi
James Burrows on working on the pilot of George & Leo

Marta Kauffman

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James Burrows on meeting Friends creators David Crane and Marta Kauffman

Andy Kaufman

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James Burrows on "Latka" getting married on Taxi
James Burrows on Andy Kaufman's "Latka" and "Tony Clifton" on Taxi

Lisa Kudrow

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James Burrows on Lisa Kudrow being cast as the original "Roz" on Frasier
James Burrows on the ensemble cast of Friends

Cloris Leachman

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James Burrows on directing Phyllis

John Lithgow

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

Christopher Lloyd (actor)

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James Burrows on the cast of Taxi
James Burrows on "Latka" getting married on Taxi
James Burrows on Christopher Lloyd

Shelley Long

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James Burrows on casting Cheers

Chuck Lorre

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James Burrows on working on the pilot of Dharma & Greg
James Burrows on working on the pilot of Two And a Half Men

Penny Marshall

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James Burrows on directing Laverne & Shirley

Garry Marshall

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James Burrows on directing Laverne & Shirley

Groucho Marx

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James Burrows on meeting celebrities when he was a child

Eric McCormack

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James Burrows on casting Will & Grace

Debra Messing

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James Burrows on directing and casting Will & Grace
James Burrows on casting Will & Grace

Robert Moore

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

Mary Tyler Moore

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James Burrows on working on Holly Golightly  
James Burrows on getting his job on The Mary Tyler Moore Show  
James Burrows on learning from Mary Tyler Moore on The Mary Tyler Moore Show
James Burrows on his first time directing The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Megan Mullally

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James Burrows on directing and casting Will & Grace

Edward R. Murrow

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James Burrows on being on Person to Person when he was a child

Bob Newhart

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James Burrows on directing The Bob Newhart Show
James Burrows on working on the pilot of George & Leo

Tom Patchett

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James Burrows on directing The Bob Newhart Show

Matthew Perry

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James Burrows on the ensemble cast of Friends

David Hyde Pierce

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

Sydney Pollack

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James Burrows on guest stars on Will & Grace

Tom Poston

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James Burrows on directing The Bob Newhart Show

John Ratzenberger

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James Burrows on casting "Cliff Clavin" on Cheers

Rob Reiner

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James Burrows on directing Free Country
James Burrows on getting hired to direct Taxi

Paul Sand

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James Burrows on running lines with comic Paul Sand

Jay Sandrich

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

Jay Tarses

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James Burrows on directing The Bob Newhart Show

Brandon Tartikoff

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

Lea Thompson

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James Burrows on working with Lea Thompson on Caroline in the City

Grant Tinker

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

Ed. Weinberger

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James Burrows on loving the script for Taxi

George Wendt

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James Burrows on casting George Wendt as "Norm" on Cheers

Cindy Williams

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James Burrows on directing Laverne & Shirley

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