Robert Butler

Director


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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About
About this interview

In his five-hour Archive interview, Robert Butler describes breaking into the business as an usher at CBS. He speaks of his experiences in various behind-the-scenes capacities on classic "live" anthology series Climax! and Playhouse 90. He discusses his first break in television directing on the comedy/drama series Hennesey. Butler then details his varied assignments in series television in the 1960s on The Detectives, Bonanza, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Dr. Kildare, Gunsmoke, The Defenders, The Fugitive, Hogan's Heroes, The Twilight Zone, Batman, and Star Trek. He recalls his work in the 1970s on television movies (such as Columbo Movies of the Week and James Dean) and on feature films. He then outlines his groundbreaking work on the look of Hill Street Blues, for which he directed several of the initial episodes (including the pilot). He talks about his later work on Remington Steele, Moonlighting, Out on a Limb, Midnight Caller (which he also executive-produced), Sisters, and Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. Stephen J. Abramson conducted the interview on January 14, 2004 in Los Angeles, CA.

"I adore the decent handling of people and I do that. Mostly they respond, sometimes they don't. But I give them a good shake, and I'm rewarded in that. One actor said to me, 'one of the greatest gifts is the way you handle people.' And I like that and find that kind of comforting."

People Talking About ...
Highlights
Robert Butler on directing the original pilot of Star Trek  ("The Cage")
Robert Butler on the look of Hill Street Blues
Robert Butler on working with Cybill Shepherd on the Moonlighting pilot telefilm
Robert Butler on advice to aspiring directors
Robert Butler on his proudest achievement
Full Interview

Chapter 1

On his childhood and early influences; on his interest in jazz; on attending UCLA
On becoming an usher at CBS and working his way up the ranks to become a stage manager; on being an associate director on Playhouse 90 and Climax!

Chapter 2

On Playhouse 90 and Climax! teleplays that he worked on as an assistant director (AD); on the effect of the Blacklist; on wanting to become a director
On his first directing job on Hennesey; on directing Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Have Gun, Will Travel, The Untouchables, and The Detectives Starring Robert Taylor

Chapter 3

On directing episodes of Bonanza, Shane, and Dr. Kildare
On directing Stoney Burke, Ben Case, and The Richard Boone Show
On directing The Defenders and The Fugitive

Chapter 4

On directing black and white and color episodes of The Fugitive; on directing The Fugitive episode "Corner of Hell"
On directing the pilot of Hogan's Heroes; on controversial elements of the show and establishing the tone of the series
On directing several episodes of The Twilight Zone

Chapter 5

On directing The Twilight Zone teleplay "Caesar and Me" starring Jackie Cooper
On directing the pilot and a few other Batman episodes; on the crazy elements on the show; on working with the cast and with guest stars
On the comic book elements on Batman; on lighting challenges on the show and working with Frank Gorshin ("The Riddler") and Burgess Meredith ("The Penguin")

Chapter 6

On directing the original Star Trek pilot
On directing episodes of The Invaders, Ironside, I Spy, and Mission: Impossible  
On directing Kung Fu and The Waltons

Chapter 7

On directing Columbo  
On directing feature films for Disney and Wonderful World of Disney shows including Kilroy
On directing television movies-of-the-week and their lack of specificity compared to series television
On directing the miniseries The Blue Knight (1975) starring William Holden
On directing the TV movie A Strange New World 
On directing the TV movie James Dean  (1976)
On becoming involved in directing Hill Street Blues

Chapter 8

On the casting and the gritty style of Hill Street Blues
On network and audience reaction to Hill Street Blues; on his directing style and trademark elements on the show; on the theme song and opening sequence
On the structure of storylines on Hill Street Blues; on the show's color scheme and working with Steven Bochco and Michael Kozoll

Chapter 9

On working with the cast of Hill Street Blues; on why he stayed as a regular director on Hill Street Blues
On co-creating and casting Remington Steele
On directing the pilot of Moonlighting
On directing Shirley MacLaine in Out on a Limb

Chapter 10

On executive producing Midnight Caller; on directing the pilot of Sisters and directing Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman
On his directing style; on his work with the Directors Guild of America; on then-current projects; on how he'd like to be remembered
Shows

Batman

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Robert Butler on directing the pilot and a few other Batman episodes
Robert Butler on Bill Dozier setting the tone of Batman and working with Adam West
Robert Butler on some of the fun and crazy elements on Batman; on the "dynamic duo"
Robert Butler on the guest stars on Batman
Robert Butler on the fight scenes and comic book elements on Batman
Robert Butler on the two episode structure and cliffhangers often used on Batman
Robert Butler on lighting challenges on Batman
Robert Butler on the camp nature of Batman
Robert Butler on the titles of Batman episodes and working with Frank Gorshin ("The Riddler") on Batman
Robert Butler on episodes 3 and 4 of Batman featuring Burgess Meredith as "The Penguin"

Ben Casey

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Robert Butler on directing episodes of Ben Casey

Blue Knight, The

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Robert Butler on directing the miniseries The Blue Knight (1975) starring William Holden

Bonanza

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Robert Butler on directing an episode of Bonanza, "Broken Ballad" (airdate: October 29, 1961) where the cast gave him a difficult time (Note: interviewer mistakenly calls Lorne Greene "Lorne Michaels")

Climax!

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Robert Butler on working with composer Jerry Goldsmith and director Buzz Kulik on Climax!
Robert Butler on the concept of Climax!

Columbo

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Robert Butler on directing Columbo  

Defenders, The

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Robert Butler on directing a Defenders episode where an actor was deemed "unacceptable" due to the Blacklist
Robert Butler on directing a Defenders episode where an actor was deemed "unacceptable" due to the Blacklist
Robert Butler on directing episodes of and rehearsals on The Defenders

Detectives, The

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Robert Butler on directing The Detectives Starring Robert Taylor

Dick Powell Show, The

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Robert Butler on directing The Dick Powell Show and anothologies in general

Dick Van Dyke Show, The

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Robert Butler on directing The Dick Van Dyke Show

Dr. Kildare

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Robert Butler on directing Dr. Kildare  

Fugitive, The

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Robert Butler on directing episodes of The Fugitive
Robert Butler on directing black and white and color episodes of The Fugitive
Robert Butler on directing The Fugitive episode "Corner of Hell"

Gunsmoke

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Robert Butler on directing episodes of Gunsmoke

Have Gun - Will Travel

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Robert Butler on directing one episode of Have Gun, Will Travel

Hennesey

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Robert Butler on his first directing job on Hennesey

Hill Street Blues

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Robert Butler on becoming involved in directing Hill Street Blues
Robert Butler on casting Hill Street Blues
Robert Butler on the look of Hill Street Blues
Robert Butler on network reaction to the gritty style of Hill Street Blues and Grant Tinker protecting the show
Robert Butler on audience reaction to Hill Street Blues
Robert Butler on the ensemble nature of storytelling and shooting on Hill Street Blues
Robert Butler on his approach to directing episodes of Hill Street Blues
Robert Butler on some of the trademark elements of Hill Street Blues
Robert Butler on the theme song to Hill Street Blues
Robert Butler on the opening sequence of Hill Street Blues
Robert Butler on the structure of the storylines on Hill Street Blues
Robert Butler on the harsh language and realism on Hill Street Blues
Robert Butler on the color scheme on Hill Street Blues
Robert Butler on not revealing the location of Hill Street Blues
Robert Butler on working with show creators Steven Bochco and Mike Kozoll on Hill Street Blues
Robert Butler on working with the cast of Hill Street Blues
Robert Butler on why he stayed as a regular director on Hill Street Blues

Hogan's Heroes

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Robert Butler on directing the pilot of Hogan's Heroes
Robert Butler on establishing the tone of Hogan's Heroes
Robert Butler on enjoying directing Hogan's Heroes when he hadn't enjoyed directing comedies before; on differences between single camera and multi-camera productions
Robert Butler on directing the pilot and several episodes of Hogan's Heroes

I Spy

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Robert Butler on directing I Spy

Invaders, The

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Robert Butler on directing episodes of The Invaders

Ironside

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Robert Butler on directing Ironside

James Dean

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Robert Butler on directing the TV movie James Dean  (1976)

Kung Fu

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Robert Butler on directing Kung Fu; on cheating shots

Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman

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Robert Butler on directing Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman

Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, The

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Robert Butler on mishaps directing Many Loves of Dobie Gillis

Midnight Caller

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Robert Butler on executive producing Midnight Caller

Mission: Impossible

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Robert Butler on feeling constrained as a director on Mission: Impossible; on directing suspense

Moonlighting

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Robert Butler on Moonlighting creator Glenn Gordon Caron's sensibilities, and the pilots the two worked on before Butler directed the Moonlighting pilot telefilm
Robert Butler on the casting of Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis (and Willis' screen test) for Moonlighting [the telefilm pilot of which Butler directed]
Robert Butler on the pace of the dialogue for the pilot telefilm of Moonlighting
Robert Butler on Moonlighting creator Glenn Gordon Caron
Robert Butler on working with Cybill Shepherd on the Moonlighting pilot telefilm
Robert Butler on working with Bruce Willis on the Moonlighting pilot telefilm
Robert Butler on only directing the pilot of Moonlighting

Out on a Limb

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Robert Butler on directing Shirley MacLaine in Out on a Limb

Playhouse 90

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Robert Butler on being an associate director/AD on Playhouse 90
Robert Butler on being an associate director/AD on specific productions of Playhouse 90 penned by Reginald Rose, including "A Quiet Game of Cards"
Robert Butler on various Playhouse 90 teleplays that were not always successful

Remington Steele

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Robert Butler on co-creating Remington Steele
Robert Butler on co-creating and casting Remington Steele

Richard Boone Show, The

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Robert Butler on directing teleplays of The Richard Boone Show

Shane

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Robert Butler on directing an episode of Shane

Sisters

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Robert Butler on directing the pilot of Sisters
Robert Butler on the creativity in shooting Sisters

Star Trek

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Robert Butler on directing the original pilot of Star Trek  ("The Cage")

Stoney Burke

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Robert Butler on directing Jack Lord on Stoney Burke

Twilight Zone, The

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Robert Butler on directing several episodes of The Twilight Zone
Robert Butler on directing The Twilight Zone teleplay "Caesar and Me" starring Jackie Cooper

Untouchables, The

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Robert Butler on directing The Untouchables

Waltons, The

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Robert Butler on filters used while directing The Waltons
Robert Butler on directing The Waltons  (including the episode "Airmail Man")

Wonderful World of Disney, The aka Magical World of Disney, The

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Robert Butler on directing Wonderful World of Disney shows including Kilroy
Topics

Advice

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Robert Butler on advice to aspiring directors

Characters & Catchphrases

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Robert Butler on directing Columbo  

Classic TV series episodes

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Robert Butler on directing the original pilot of Star Trek  ("The Cage")

Creative Influences and Inspiration

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Robert Butler on his mentors and people he's mentored

Hollywood Blacklist

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Robert Butler on directing a Defenders episode where an actor was deemed "unacceptable" due to the Blacklist

Industry Crossroads

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Robert Butler on directing a Defenders episode where an actor was deemed "unacceptable" due to the Blacklist

Pop Culture

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Robert Butler on directing the original pilot of Star Trek  ("The Cage")
Robert Butler on the theme song to Hill Street Blues

TV Theme Songs

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Robert Butler on the theme song to Hill Street Blues

Television Industry

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Robert Butler on directing a Defenders episode where an actor was deemed "unacceptable" due to the Blacklist
Robert Butler on advice to aspiring directors
Professions

Directors

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Robert Butler on wanting to be a director
Robert Butler on differences between directing live television and filmed single camera television
Robert Butler on his directing style
Robert Butler on directing actors
Robert Butler on his work with the Directors Guild of America and why it's important to directors
Robert Butler on advice to aspiring directors
Genres

Adventure/Espionage Series

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Robert Butler on directing the pilot and several episodes of Batman
Robert Butler on directing Mission: Impossible; on directing suspense
Robert Butler on co-creating Remington Steele

Classic Anthology Series

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Robert Butler on being an associate director/AD on Playhouse 90 and Climax!
Robert Butler on directing several episodes of The Twilight Zone

Comedy Series

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Robert Butler on directing the pilot of Hogan's Heroes; on controversial elements of the show and establishing the tone of the series

Cop/Detective/Mystery Series

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Robert Butler on directing black and white and color episodes of The Fugitive; on directing The Fugitive episode "Corner of Hell"
Robert Butler on directing several episodes of The Twilight Zone
Robert Butler on directing Columbo  
Robert Butler on directing and creating the trademark style elements of Hill Street Blues
Robert Butler on working with the cast of Hill Street Blues; on why he stayed as a regular director on Hill Street Blues
Robert Butler on directing the pilot of Moonlighting

Drama Series

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Robert Butler on directing the pilot of Moonlighting

Legal Dramas

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Robert Butler on directing episodes of The Defenders

Sci-Fi/Supernatural Series

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Robert Butler on directing the original pilot of Star Trek  ("The Cage")

TV Movies/Miniseries/Dramatic Specials

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Robert Butler on directing television movies-of-the-week and their lack of specificity compared to series television
People

James Arness

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Robert Butler on directing episodes of Gunsmoke

Barbara Barrie

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Robert Butler on directing episodes of The Invaders

Robert Blake

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Robert Butler on directing Robert Blake on a Richard Boone anthology series

Steven Bochco

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Robert Butler on working with show creator Steven Bochco on Hill Street Blues

Richard Boone

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Robert Butler on directing Have Gun, Will Travel

Herbert Brodkin

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Robert Butler on directing a Defenders episode where an actor was deemed "unacceptable" due to the Blacklist
Robert Butler on directing episodes of The Defenders

Pierce Brosnan

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Robert Butler on casting Remington Steele

Raymond Burr

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Robert Butler on directing episodes of Ironside

Dean Cain

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Robert Butler on directing Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman

Glenn Gordon Caron

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Director Robert Butler on Moonlighting creator Glenn Gordon Caron's sensibilities, and the pilots the two worked on before Butler directed the Moonlighting pilot telefilm
Director Robert Butler on Moonlighting creator Glenn Gordon Caron

Jack Cassidy

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Robert Butler on directing Columbo  

Michael Conrad

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Robert Butler on working with the cast of Hill Street Blues - Michael Conrad

Fielder Cook

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Robert Butler on Fielder Cook directing episodes of The Waltons

Jackie Cooper

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Robert Butler on directing The Twilight Zone teleplay "Caesar and Me" starring Jackie Cooper

Bill Cosby

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Robert Butler on directing Bill Cosby and Robert Culp on I Spy

Robert Culp

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Robert Butler on directing Bill Cosby and Robert Culp on I Spy

David Dortort

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Robert Butler on directing an episode of Bonanza, "Broken Ballad" (airdate: October 29, 1961) where the cast gave him a difficult time (Correction: interviewer mistakenly calls Lorne Greene "Lorne Michaels")

Bill Dozier

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Robert Butler on directing the pilot and a few other Batman episodes
Robert Butler on Bill Dozier setting the tone of Batman

Peter Falk

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Robert Butler on directing Peter Falk on Columbo  

William Froug

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Robert Butler on getting hired by William Froug to direct several episodes of The Twilight Zone

Michael Gleason

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Robert Butler on co-creating Remington Steele

Jerry Goldsmith

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Robert Butler on working with composer Jerry Goldsmith and director Buzz Kulik on Climax!

Frank Gorshin

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Robert Butler on working with Frank Gorshin ("The Riddler") on Batman
Robert Butler on working with Frank Gorshin ("The Riddler") on Batman

Charles Haid

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Robert Butler on working with the cast of Hill Street Blues - Charles Haid

Veronica Hamel

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Robert Butler on casting Veronica Hamel on Hill Street Blues

Neil Hamilton

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Robert Butler on some of the fun and crazy elements on Batman

Earl Hamner, Jr.

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Robert Butler on directing The Waltons  (including the episode "Airmail Man")

Teri Hatcher

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Robert Butler on directing Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman

William Holden

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Robert Butler on directing the miniseries The Blue Knight (1975) starring William Holden

David Janssen

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Robert Butler on directing episodes of The Fugitive

Jill St. John

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Robert Butler on directing Jill St. John in a Batman episode

Bob Kane

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Robert Butler on creator Bob Kane not being around when he directed Batman

Michael Kozoll

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Robert Butler on working with show creator Steven Michael Kozoll on Hill Street Blues

Buzz Kulik

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Robert Butler on working with director Buzz Kulik

Martin Landau

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Robert Butler on directing Martin Landau on Columbo  

Jack Lord

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Robert Butler on directing Jack Lord on Stoney Burke

Shirley MacLaine

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Director Robert Butler on directing Shirley MacLaine in Out on a Limb

Quinn Martin

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Robert Butler on directing episodes of The Fugitive

Kiel Martin

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Robert Butler on casting Kiel Martin on Hill Street Blues

Raymond Massey

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Robert Butler on directing Dr. Kildare  

Burgess Meredith

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Robert Butler on episodes 3 and 4 of Batman featuring Burgess Meredith as "The Penguin"

Alan Napier

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Robert Butler on some of the fun and crazy elements on Batman

Carroll O'Connor

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Robert Butler on directing Carroll O'Connor on I Spy

Frank Pierson

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Robert Butler on directing Have Gun, Will Travel

Mike Post

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Robert Butler on the theme song to Hill Street Blues

Carl Reiner

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Robert Butler on directing The Dick Van Dyke Show and working with Carl Reiner

Gene Roddenberry

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Robert Butler on directing the original pilot of Star Trek

Reginald Rose

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Robert Butler on being an associate director/AD on specific productions of Playhouse 90 penned by Reginald Rose, including "A Quiet Game of Cards"
Robert Butler on directing episodes of The Defenders

Alex Segal

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Robert Butler on working with director Alex Segal

Lorenzo Semple, Jr.

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Robert Butler on directing the pilot and a few other Batman episodes
Robert Butler on some of the fun and crazy elements on Batman

Rod Serling

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Robert Butler on directing Rod Serling on The Twilight Zone

Cybill Shepherd

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Director Robert Butler on the casting of Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis (and Willis' screen test) for Moonlighting [the telefilm pilot of which Butler directed]
Director Robert Butler on working with Cybill Shepherd on the Moonlighting pilot telefilm

James Sikking

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Robert Butler on working with the cast of Hill Street Blues - James Sikking

Robert Stack

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Robert Butler on working with Robert Stack when directing The Untouchables

Robert Taylor

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Robert Butler on directing The Detectives Starring Robert Taylor

Roy Thinnes

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Robert Butler on directing episodes of The Invaders

Betty Thomas

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Robert Butler on working with Betty Thomas on Hill Street Blues

Grant Tinker

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Robert Butler on becoming involved in directing Hill Street Blues
Robert Butler on network reaction to the gritty style of Hill Street Blues and Grant Tinker protecting the show

Daniel J. Travanti

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Robert Butler on working with the cast of Hill Street Blues - Daniel J. Travanti

Burt Ward

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Robert Butler on the dynamic duo played by Adam West and Burt Ward on Batman

Bruce Weitz

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Robert Butler on casting Bruce Weitz on Hill Street Blues

Adam West

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Robert Butler on working with Adam West on Batman
Robert Butler on the dynamic duo played by Adam West and Burt Ward on Batman
Robert Butler on Adam West's demeanor on Batman

Bruce Willis

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Director Robert Butler on the casting of Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis (and Willis' screen test) for Moonlighting [the telefilm pilot of which Butler directed]
Director Robert Butler on working with Bruce Willis on the Moonlighting pilot telefilm

Stephanie Zimbalist

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Robert Butler on casting Stephanie Zimbalist in Remington Steele

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