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Curtin Burnett

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One of the most celebrated directors in television comedy history, James Burrows earned numerous Emmys for his crisp, fast-moving direction on such iconic series as "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" (CBS, 1970-77), "Taxi" (ABC/NBC, 1978-83), "Cheers" (NBC, 1982-93), which he also co-created, and "Will and Grace" (NBC, 1998-2006), among countless others. Burrows brought a quick-witted, theatrical pace to half-hour comedies that elevated them beyond the standard gags and banter to short plays that resonated with audiences beyond their weekly time slot. As a result, he became the go-to guy for both new and established shows to bring an element of style, wit and class to their seasonal lineup. In doing so, Burrows was among the most honored television directors in the medium's history and one of the few television directors average viewers recognized by name.Born James Edward Burrows on Dec. 30, 1940 in Los Angeles, he was the son of Abe Burrows, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of such legendary musicals as "Guys and Dolls" and "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," and his wife, Ruth Levinson. Burrows grew up in New York City, where he would frequently accompany his father to his office and...

One of the most celebrated directors in television comedy history, James Burrows earned numerous Emmys for his crisp, fast-moving direction on such iconic series as "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" (CBS, 1970-77), "Taxi" (ABC/NBC, 1978-83), "Cheers" (NBC, 1982-93), which he also co-created, and "Will and Grace" (NBC, 1998-2006), among countless others. Burrows brought a quick-witted, theatrical pace to half-hour comedies that elevated them beyond the standard gags and banter to short plays that resonated with audiences beyond their weekly time slot. As a result, he became the go-to guy for both new and established shows to bring an element of style, wit and class to their seasonal lineup. In doing so, Burrows was among the most honored television directors in the medium's history and one of the few television directors average viewers recognized by name.

Born James Edward Burrows on Dec. 30, 1940 in Los Angeles, he was the son of Abe Burrows, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of such legendary musicals as "Guys and Dolls" and "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," and his wife, Ruth Levinson. Burrows grew up in New York City, where he would frequently accompany his father to his office and even pitch jokes for projects, but as he grew older, he expressed no desire to follow in his father's footsteps. He chose Oberlin College in Ohio for his higher education, where he majored in government. However, after graduating in 1962, he executed an about-face and pursued playwriting at the Yale School of Drama. In 1967, he served as assistant stage manager for "Holly Golightly," a musical adaptation of "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (1961). The production was a notable flop, but it introduced to Burrows to its star, Mary Tyler Moore, who would later be his conduit into directing for television.

In the early 1970s, Burrows was directing summer stock theater in Chicago and San Diego when he happened to see an episode of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." He called Grant Tinker, head of the show's production company, MTM, and also Moore's husband, in the hopes of landing work as a director on the series. Tinker hired Burrows in 1974, and he would go on to helm four episodes of Moore's show while gaining invaluable experience from observing its veteran directors and writing staff. By 1976, Burrows was directing other comedy programs, including the "Moore" spin-offs "Phyllis" (CBS, 1975-77), "Rhoda" (CBS, 1974-78) and "Lou Grant" (CBS, 1977-1982), as well as such successful sitcoms as "The Bob Newhart Show" (CBS, 1972-78) and "Laverne and Shirley" (ABC, 1976-1983). His direction was distinguished by its use of four cameras, instead of the traditional three, for expanded coverage and more complex blocking, as well as a breezy, near-screwball pace that had characters moving quickly and interacting while delivering their dialogue rather than remaining static and slinging one-liners.

In 1980, Burrows became the director of choice for "Taxi," a sitcom about blue-collar NYC taxi drivers that earned him his first Emmys for directing in both 1980 and 1981. A hit with critics and audiences alike, "Taxi" helped to elevate Burrows from journeyman director to one of the top creative forces in sitcoms, and granted him access to producing his own series. In 1982, he teamed with "Taxi" writers Glen and Les Charles to create "Cheers," a sitcom about the staff and regulars at a Boston bar. Though studio audiences responded favorably to the episodes, the show struggled in its freshman season, actually escaping cancellation simply because NBC had nothing else to air in its time slot. Eventually, its mix of dazzling writing and memorable characters found a diehard audience, which helped to make "Cheers" one of the most beloved sitcoms in television history. For Burrows, who directed all but 35 of the show's 275 episodes, the series brought him an additional four Emmys for direction, as well as a shared Outstanding Comedy series award in 1992. He would later go on to win a sixth direction Emmy for the "Cheers" spin-off, "Frasier" (NBC, 1993-2004), and helm episodes of such popular shows as "Friends" (NBC, 1994-2004), which his production company helped to oversee, "3rd Rock from the Sun" (NBC, 1996-2001) and "NewsRadio" (NBC, 1995-99), which would garner him three additional Emmy nominations.

Not everything Burrows touched turned to gold; his sole attempt at feature direction, the comedy "Partners" (1982), was a dismal misfire about gay and straight cops, and several of the shows he produced, including "All is Forgiven" (NBC, 1986) and "The Class" (CBS, 2006-07), failed to surpass their first season. However, "Will and Grace," which he co-produced with Max Mutchnick and David Kohan, was a runaway hit thanks to its stellar casting and writing, which harkened back to the heyday of "Cheers" and "Frasier." Burrows would share another Emmy with his producing partners for Outstanding Comedy Series in 2000, and his fourth Directors Guild of America win (the previous being for "Cheers" and "Frasier") with the series. The ground-breaking sitcom's popular run coincided with his Lifetime Achievement Award from the Banff Television Festival in 2003.

In 1998, Burrows returned briefly to theater direction with a production of "The Man Who Came to Dinner" at the prestigious Steppenwolf Theatre, which later moved to London's Barbicon Theatre. However, television was his main focus during this period, and he soon returned to duties on "Will and Grace," and later episodes of "The Big Bang Theory" (CBS, 2007- ), "Better with You" (ABC, 2010-11) and multiple episodes of "Mike and Molly" (CBS, 2010-16). In 2010, he was among the star-studded board of directors for The Comedy Awards, which honored humor in a variety of media.

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