James Burrows

This article is about the television director. For the New Zealand rugby player and soldier, see James Thomas Burrows. For the politician, see Jim Burrows (Queensland politician).
James Burrows
Born James Edward Burrows
(1940-12-30) December 30, 1940
Los Angeles, California, United States
Nationality American
Occupation Television director
Years active 1974–present
Religion Jewish
  • Linda Solomon (m. 1981; div. 1993)
  • Debbie Easton (m. 1997)
Children 4
Parent(s) Ruth Levinson Burrows
Abe Burrows

James Edward Burrows (born December 30, 1940), sometimes known as Jim Burrows,[1] is an American television director who has been working in television since the 1970s.[2] Burrows has directed over 50 television pilots and co-created the long-running television series Cheers.

Early life

Burrows was born to a Jewish family[3][4] in Los Angeles, California, the son of Ruth (Levinson) and Abe Burrows, a well-known composer, director and writer.[5] James has one sister, Laurie Burrows Grad.[6] When James was still a young child, his family moved to New York where James attended New York’s High School of Music & Art.[7][8] Burrows is a graduate of Oberlin College and the graduate program of the Yale School of Drama.[7]


Early career

After Yale, Burrows returned to California where he became employed as a dialogue coach on O.K. Crackerby!, a television series starring Burl Ives and created by Burrows' father, Abe.[9] Burrows then took a job as an assistant stage manager on the play Holly Golightly, an adaptation of the novella Breakfast at Tiffany's.[10] The production was unsuccessful, but the job served as Burrows' introduction to its star, Mary Tyler Moore.[10] Early on Burrows also worked for the road company of Cactus Flower and the Broadway production of Forty Carats.[11]

Burrows continued working in theater as a stage manager and transitioned into directing plays.[12] Burrows directed traveling plays and a production at a Jacksonville, Florida dinner theater.[12][13]

Television director

While working in theater, Burrows wrote Moore and her then husband Grant Tinker seeking a job at their production company, MTM Enterprises.[10] In 1974, Tinker hired Burrows as a director for MTM Enterprises where he directed episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Bob Newhart Show.[10][14] Tinker asked director Jay Sandrich, known for his work directing The Mary Tyler Moore Show and later The Cosby Show and The Golden Girls, to serve as a mentor to Burrows.[15]

Burrows' style is best known for his comic timing, complex blocking for actors, and incorporating more sophisticated lighting in television studio shoots. He is also credited as being one of the first sitcom directors to increase the typical multi-camera television shoot from three to four cameras.[14]


Burrows co-created Cheers with brothers Glen and Les Charles. The Charles brothers were also former employees of MTM Enterprises and served as producers on the series Taxi where Burrows worked as in house director for 76 episodes.[10][14][16] Burrows and the Charles brothers wanted to create a show where they could have more control.[16] Cheers premiered on NBC on September 30, 1982.[16] Although Cheers initially struggled in the ratings, the series became a hit, running 275 episodes over eleven seasons.[16] Burrows directed all but 35 of those 275 episodes.[10]

Other television series

Burrows has directed for many series, including:

Burrows directed every episode of Will & Grace during its eight-year run.[17] Additionally, by 2012 Burrows had directed over 50 pilots for television series.[18]

Burrows has directed over 1,000 episodes of television, a milestone he achieved in November 2015 with the NBC sitcom Crowded.[19] To celebrate Burrows' achievement, NBC aired a special tribute on February 21, 2016, titled Must See TV: An All-Star Tribute to James Burrows featuring cast reunions from many of the series Burrows has directed such as Cheers, Taxi, Friends, Frasier, The Big Bang Theory, Will & Grace and Mike & Molly.[20]

Other projects

In 1998, Burrows directed a Chicago-based production of the 1939 comedy The Man Who Came to Dinner starring John Mahoney.[13]

In front of the camera

Burrows has had cameo appearances in several of the shows for which he has directed. In the first season of Friends, Burrows appeared in the episode "The One with the Butt" as the director of the film in which the character Joey Tribbiani is cast as Al Pacino's butt double.[21] He also appears as a television director named Jimmy in the 2005 HBO series The Comeback.[22] Burrows played himself on the series. An episode of Scrubs, "My Life in Four Cameras", had a character named Charles James in honor of Cheers creators Burrows and Glen and Les Charles. It was previously asserted in Sitcoms: the 101 Greatest TV Comedies of All Time (2007) that Burrows served as the silhouette of the customer who knocks on the door in the final scene of Cheers,[14] but Burrows himself refuted this claim on episode 9 of the NewsRadio-themed podcast Dispatches from Fort Awesome, revealing that the actual "Man Who Knocks" was agent Bob Broder.[23]


Over the course of his career, Burrows has been nominated for fifteen Directors Guild of America awards, and for an Emmy Award every year between 1980 and 2005, excluding 1997.[17] Burrows has won ten Emmy Awards and four Directors Guild of America Awards. The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences celebrated Burrows' forty-year career by hosting a panel in his honor on October 7, 2013.[17]

Personal life

Burrows is married to celebrity hairstylist Debbie Easton; the couple lives in Manhattan.[24] Burrows was previously married to Linda Solomon.[25][26] He is a father to three daughters and a stepdaughter.[22]

Selected filmography



Year Title Role Notes
1974 Rhoda Agent Episode: "The Lady in Red"
1975 Phyllis Telephone Man Episode: "Up for Grabs"
1977 The Bob Newhart Show Maintenance Man Episode: " Halls of Hartley"
1989 Cheers Man Standing in the Bar
1993 Man Who Knocks
  • Uncredited
  • Episode: "One for the Road"
1994 Friends Director
  • Uncredited
  • Episode: "The One with the Butt"
2005 The Comeback Himself Recurring from 2005–14



Year Title Role Notes
1978 More Than Friends Director Comedy film[27]
1982 Partners Gay-themed buddy comedy film[28]


Year Title Role Notes
1974 The Mary Tyler Moore Show Director 4 episodes from 1974–76
1975 Paul Sand in Friends and Lovers Episode: "From Russia with Lust"
Fay Episodes:
  • "Not with My Husband You Don't"
  • "Lillian's Separation"
Phyllis 19 episodes from 1975–76
The Bob Newhart Show 11 episodes from 1975–77
1976 The Tony Randall Show 4 episodes from 1976–77
Laverne & Shirley 8 episodes from 1976–77
1977 Bumpers[29] Director Short comedy television film
Roosevelt and Truman[30]
Calling Doctor Storm, M. D.[31]
Busting Loose Director 5 episodes
Lou Grant Episode: "Christmas"
We've Got Each Other Episodes:
  • "Pilot"
  • "The Long Vacation"
The Betty White Show Episode: "John's Mother"
Rhoda 4 episodes from 1977–78
1978 The Plant Family Director[32] Short comedy television film
The Betty White Show Director Episode: "Play Misty for John"
Free Country Episodes:
  • "Citizenship"
  • "Special Delivery"
Taxi 75 episodes from 1978–82
1979 Butterflies Director[33] Short comedy television film
A New Kind of Family Director Episode: "I Do"
The Associates 4 episodes from 1979–80
1980 The Stockard Channing Show Episodes:
  • "Life Begins at 30"
  • "Punt, Pass and Kick"
Good Time Harry Episode: "The Wally Smith Story"
1981 Every Stray Dog and Kid Director[34] Short television film
Best of the West Director 3 episodes
1982 Cheers Producer/executive producer/director
  • Co-Creator of series
  • Producer from 1982–84
  • Executive producer from 1985–93
  • Directed 237 episodes from 1982–93
Goodbye Doesn't Mean Forever Director[35] Television film
1984 Night Court Director Episode: "All You Need Is Love"
At Your Service Director[36] Television film
1985 Big Shots in America Director[37] Television film
1986 Valerie Director Episode: "Old Enough"
All Is Forgiven Episodes:
  • "On Air Commitment"
  • "With Child"
1987 The Tortellis Executive producer Short-lived comedy
Director Episode: "Pilot" (S 1:Ep 1)
CBS Summer Playhouse Director[38] Episode: "In the Lion's Den"
1988 Channel 99 Director[39] Television film
Dear John Director Episodes:
  • "Pilot"
  • "Ralph's Curse"
1989 Out on the Edge Production manager[40] Television film
1990 Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color Director Episode: "Disneyland's 35th Anniversary Celebration"
The Marshall Chronicles Director Episodes:
  • "Pilot"
  • "Night of the Chopped Liver"
Wings Episode: "Legacy"
The Earth Day Special Director Cheers segment
Down Home Director Episodes:
  • "Pier Pressure"
  • "By the Book"
The Fanelli Boys Episode: "Pilot"
1991 Roc Episode: "Pilot"
Pacific Station Episode: "Pilot"
Flesh 'n' Blood Episode: "Blood Is Thicker Than Arlo"
1992 Flying Blind Episode: "Pilot"
1993 Café Americain 3 episodes
Frasier 32 episodes from 1993–97
1994 Monty Episode: "Here Comes the Son"
The Boys Are Back Episode: "Pilot"
Madman of the People Episodes:
  • "Pilot"
  • "All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Mad Boy"
1995 The Preston Episodes Episode: "Pilot"
Hudson Street Episode: "Pilot"
Partners 10 episodes from 1995–96
NewsRadio 7 episodes from 1995–96
1996 The Nerd Director[41] Television film
3rd Rock from the Sun Director Episodes:
  • "Brains and Eggs"
  • "See Dick Run"
Pearl Episode: "Pilot"
Men Behaving Badly 7 episodes from 1996–97
1997 Chicago Sons Episode: "Pilot"
1998 The Secret Lives of Men Executive producer Short-lived comedy
1999 Will & Grace 1999–2006
2001 Tikiville Television film
Last Dance Television film
2006 The Class Short-lived comedy from 2006–2007
2007 Back to You Short-lived comedy from 2007–2008
2008 Gary Unmarried Comedy from 2008–10
2010 Romantically Challenged Short-lived comedy
Mike & Molly Comedy from 2010–12
2013 The Millers 16 episodes from 2013–15
2016 Crowded Short-lived comedy
Man with a Plan Director Episode: "Pilot"


  1. "Of course Matthew Perry can't go to the Friends reunion". RadioTimes. Retrieved 2016-01-15.
  2. Stated in interview on Inside the Actors Studio
  3. Interfaith Family: "Somebody Put Baby in a Dance Competition" September 14, 2010
  4. Jewish Journal: "The Heroes of Jewish Comedy" by Tom Teicholz July 3, 2003
  5. James Burrows Biography (1940-)
  6. Rosemberg, Jasmin (19 March 2015). "Stars Sing Broadway Tunes for Alzheimer's at Sardi's Benefit". Variety. Retrieved 16 September 2015.
  7. 1 2 "James Burrows - Inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award in Television Direction". Directors Guild of America. 23 December 2013. Retrieved 16 September 2015.
  8. "Notable Alumni". Alumni & Friends of LaGuardia High School. Retrieved 16 September 2015.
  9. The Deadline Team (4 December 2014). "James Burrows & Robert Butler To Receive DGA Lifetime Achievement Award For Television". Deadline. Retrieved 17 July 2015.
  10. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Rosenberg, Howard (Summer 2007). "The Jimmy Show". Directors Guild of America. Retrieved 2 August 2015.
  11. Du Brow, Rick (19 March 1995). "He Pilots the Pilots : How to succeed in television without really trying? Call James Burrows. He's the sitcom director with the golden touch. (Say "Cheers.")". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 16 January 2016.
  12. 1 2 Lembeck, Michael. "Visual History with James Burrows". Directors Guild of America. Retrieved 2 October 2015.
  13. 1 2 Weber, Bruce (28 April 1998). "ARTS IN AMERICA; A Winding Path of Laughter From Stage to TV and Back". New York Times. Retrieved 2 October 2015.
  14. 1 2 3 4 Bloom, Ken; Blastnik, Frank (2007). Sitcoms: the 101 Greatest TV Comedies of All Time. New York, NY: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, Inc. p. 63. ISBN 978-1-57912-752-7.
  15. Littlefield, Warren (2012). Top of the Rock, Inside the Rise and Fall of Must See TV (1st ed.). New York, NY: Doubleday. pp. 21–22. ISBN 978-0-385-53374-4.
  16. 1 2 3 4 Raftery, Brian (2012). "The Best TV Show That's Ever Been". GQ. Retrieved 2 August 2015.
  17. 1 2 3 Tepper, Allegra (8 October 2013). "Director James Burrows Feted by TV Academy". Variety. Retrieved 17 July 2015.
  18. Ulaby, Neda (4 September 2012). "Making A Comedy Pilot? You Might Want To Call James Burrows". NPR. Retrieved 17 July 2015.
  19. Andreeva, Nellie (17 November 2015). "Veteran Sitcom Director James Burrows Hits 1,000 TV Episodes Mark". Deadline. Retrieved 10 January 2016.
  20. Eng, Joyce (13 January 2016). "NBC Plans Friends Reunion and Hairspray Musical, Defends Donald Trump Appearances". TV Guide. Retrieved 13 January 2016.
  21. "Friends". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 10 October 2015.
  22. 1 2 Martel, Ned (29 September 2005). "Time to Pause the Laugh Track". New York Times. Retrieved 17 July 2015.
  23. Jason Klamm and Allen Rueckert (30 August 2016). "Dispatches From Fort Awesome: A NewsRadio Podcast". stolendress.com (Podcast). StolenDress Entertainment. Event occurs at 47:25. Retrieved 31 August 2016.
  24. Doge, Annie (5 March 2015). "James Burrows, Go-To '90s Sitcom Director, Buys Handsome Greenwich Village Apartment for $4.2M". 6sqft.com.
  25. "James Burrows". Celebrity Images. Retrieved 10 January 2016.
  26. "Burrows, James 1940- (Jim Burrows, Jimmy Burrows)". Encyclopedia.com. Retrieved 10 January 2016.
  27. "More Than Friends". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved April 22, 2016.
  28. "Partners". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved April 22, 2016.
  29. "Bumpers". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved April 22, 2016.
  30. "Roosevelt and Truman". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved April 22, 2016.
  31. "Calling Doctor Storm, M. D.". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved April 22, 2016.
  32. "The Plant Family". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved April 22, 2016.
  33. "Butterflies". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved April 22, 2016.
  34. "Every Stray Dog and Kid". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved April 22, 2016.
  35. "Goodbye Doesn't Mean Forever". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved April 22, 2016.
  36. "At Your Service". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved April 22, 2016.
  37. "Big Shots in America". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved April 22, 2016.
  38. "In the Lion's Den". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved April 22, 2016.
  39. "Channel 99". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved April 22, 2016.
  40. "Out on the Edge". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved April 22, 2016.
  41. "The Nerd". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved April 22, 2016.
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