CTVA department hosts Q&A with ‘Friends’ and ‘Cheers’ producer

Eve Kim

Winner of 18 prestigious awards and 54 nominations, which include the Primetime Emmy and Director’s Guild of America, James Burrows was honored with a standing ovation at the Armer Theater on Monday night. Responsible for an abundance of celebrated television sitcoms that house timeless characters, James Burrows scanned the audience at the beginning of the event and joked, “How old is this crowd?”

In a Q&A panel with cinema and television arts professors, Burrows recollected on early career beginnings with his playwright father, Abe Burrows, and eventually the collaborative relationships he had among actors, on-screen cast, production crew and live audiences. Such cohesive crews are evident in his classics The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Cheers, and Taxi, the contemporaries, Friends, Dharma & Greg, and Will & Grace and presently, The Big Bang Theory, Mike & Molly, and The Millers.

Directing an estimated 975 shows in 40 years, Burrows maintained humility by rejecting an egotistic directing style. “There’s a lot of ways to be a director. There’s a lot of ways to be a director. One is being a son of a bitch. One is doing it ‘my way.’ I find that being a nice person is best for me,” said Burrows.

Known for casting a special touch on the greater share of his work, Burrows’ effect lingers even when the cameras stop rolling. When working with actors, he promotes synergy with writers by evaluating their creative proposals and insight, which include suggested jokes, gestures, and vocal delivery. The goal was to produce a good show.

“I have a no-fun clause: If I don’t have fun, (then) I don’t have to stay around,” he said.

Likewise, he ultimately values the comedic standards of audiences above network approval. Burrows is often heavily involved in the casting process. Recruiting big-name actors or established comics is a rare occurrence on a Burrows show, since he intends for “everyone to check their ego at the door and be on equal footing,” allowing viewers to build a progressive relationship with each cast member. After all, his favorite aspect of the job is to watch the audience react, and especially laugh.

 As the lecture came to an end, Burrows left the crowd with a few words of advice.

“If you treat everyone with mutual respect, you’ll get that back,” he said.