James Burrows

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This article is about the television director. For the New Zealand rugby player and soldier, see James Thomas Burrows.
James Edward Burrows
Born (1940-12-30) December 30, 1940 (age 75)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Nationality United States
Occupation Television director
Religion Jewish
Spouse(s) Debbie Easton
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[edit]

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


Early Career[edit]

After Yale, Burrows returned to California where he became employed as a dialogue coach on O.K. Crackerby!, a television show starring Burl Ives and created by Burrow's father, Abe.[8] Burrows then took a job as an assistant stage manager on the play Holly Golightly, an adaptation of the novella Breakfast at Tiffany's.[9] The production was unsuccessful, but the job served as Burrows' introduction to its star, Mary Tyler Moore.[9] Early on Burrows also worked for the road company of "Cactus Flower" and the Broadway production of "Forty Carats.[10]"

Burrows continued working in theater as a stage manager and transitioned into directing plays.[11] Burrows directed traveling plays and a production at a Jacksonville, Florida dinner theater.[11][12]

Television director[edit]

While working in theater, Burrows wrote Moore and her then husband Grant Tinker seeking a job at their production company, MTM Enterprises.[9] 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.[9][13] Tinker asked director Jay Sandrich, known for his work directing The Mary Tyler More Show and later Cosby and the Golden Girls, to serve as a mentor to Burrows.[14]

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.[13]


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 show Taxi where Burrows worked as in house director for 76 episodes.[9][13][15] Burrows and the Charles brothers wanted to create a show where they could have more control.[15] Cheers premiered on NBC on September 30, 1982.[15] Although Cheers initially struggled in the ratings, the show became a hit, running 275 episodes over eleven seasons.[15] Burrows directed all but thirty-five of those 275 episodes.[9]

Other television shows[edit]

Burrows has directed for many shows, including:

Burrows directed every episode of Will & Grace during its eight year run.[16] Additionally, by 2012 Burrows had directed over 50 pilots for television shows.[17]

Burrows has directed 1,000 episodes of television, a milestone he achieved in November 2015 with the NBC sitcom Crowded.[18] To celebrate Burrows' achievement, NBC announced it would air a special tribute featuring actors from many of the shows Burrows has directed.[19]

Other projects[edit]

In 1998, Burrows directed a Chicago based production of the 1939 comedy "The Man Who Came to Dinner" starring John Mahoney.[12]

In front of the camera[edit]

Burrows has had cameo appearances in several of the shows for which he has directed. Burrows served as the silhouette of the customer who knocks on the door in the final scene of Cheers.[13] In the first season of Friends, Burrows appeared in the episode "The One with the Butt" as the director of the movie in which the character Joey Tribbiani is cast as Al Pacino's butt double.[20] He also appears as a television director named Jimmy in the 2005 HBO series The Comeback.[21] 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.


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.[16] Burrows has won ten Emmy Awards and four Directors Guild of America Awards. The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences celebrated Burrow's forty-year career by hosting a panel in his honor on October 7, 2013.[16]

Personal life[edit]

Burrows is married to celebrity hairstylist Debbie Easton; the couple lives in Manhattan.[22] Burrows was previously married to Linda Solomon.[23][24] He is a father to three daughters and a step-daughter.[21]


  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. ^ James Burrows Biography (1940-)
  5. ^ Rosemberg, Jasmin (19 March 2015). "Stars Sing Broadway Tunes for Alzheimer’s at Sardi’s Benefit". Variety. Retrieved 16 September 2015. 
  6. ^ a b "James Burrows - Inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award in Television Direction". Directors Guild of America. 23 December 2013. Retrieved 16 September 2015. 
  7. ^ "Notable Alumni". Alumni & Friends of LaGuardia High School. Retrieved 16 September 2015. 
  8. ^ The Deadline Team (4 December 2014). "James Burrows & Robert Butler To Receive DGA Lifetime Achievement Award For Television". Deadline. Retrieved 17 July 2015. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f Rosenberg, Howard (Summer 2007). "The Jimmy Show". Directors Guild of America. Retrieved 2 August 2015. 
  10. ^ 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. 
  11. ^ a b Lembeck, Michael. "Visual History with James Burrows". Directors Guild of America. Retrieved 2 October 2015. 
  12. ^ a b 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. 
  13. ^ a b c d 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. 
  14. ^ 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. 
  15. ^ a b c d Raftery, Brian (2012). "The Best TV Show That's Ever Been". GQ. Retrieved 2 August 2015. 
  16. ^ a b c Tepper, Allegra (8 October 2013). "Director James Burrows Feted by TV Academy". Variety. Retrieved 17 July 2015. 
  17. ^ Ulaby, Neda (4 September 2012). "Making A Comedy Pilot? You Might Want To Call James Burrows". NPR. Retrieved 17 July 2015. 
  18. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (17 November 2015). "Veteran Sitcom Director James Burrows Hits 1,000 TV Episodes Mark". Deadline. Retrieved 10 January 2016. 
  19. ^ Eng, Joyce (13 January 2016). "NBC Plans Friends Reunion and Hairspray Musical, Defends Donald Trump Appearances". TV Guide. Retrieved 13 January 2016. 
  20. ^ "Friends". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 10 October 2015. 
  21. ^ a b Martel, Ned (29 September 2005). "Time to Pause the Laugh Track". New York Times. Retrieved 17 July 2015. 
  22. ^ Doge, Annie (5 March 2015). "James Burrows, Go-To '90s Sitcom Director, Buys Handsome Greenwich Village Apartment for $4.2M". 6sqft.com. 
  23. ^ "James Burrows". Celebrity Images. Retrieved 10 January 2016. 
  24. ^ "Burrows, James 1940- (Jim Burrows, Jimmy Burrows)". Encyclopedia.com. Retrieved 10 January 2016. 

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