‘Directed by James Burrows’ Review: Making TV With Friends

On the sets of “Taxi,” “Cheers,” “Friends” and other hit comedies, James Burrows saw each episode as a moment of theater.

Ted Danson, Shelley Long and James Burrows on the set of “Cheers.”Photo: NBCUniversal via Getty Images

When the sitcom “Cheers” ended its 11-year run, its creators, James Burrows and brothers Glen and Les Charles, gifted the show’s crew with Tiffany key chains inscribed, “It was the best of times, it was the best of times.” Those words serve as an apt summary of Mr. Burrows’ amiable memoir, “Directed by James Burrows,” which chronicles his happy career helming some of America’s most beloved television comedies. In addition to “Cheers,” Mr. Burrows directed episodes of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Taxi,” “Friends” and “Will & Grace,” among many others.

Mr. Burrows, born in 1940, spends little time on his New York City childhood but lingers on his father, the writer, stage director and television personality Abe Burrows. Because of his dad’s “long shadow,” Mr. Burrows was “determined not to follow in his footsteps.” Yet during summer vacations from Oberlin College he worked in summer stock, and, lacking direction and seeking to avoid military service in Vietnam, he enrolled, at Abe’s suggestion, in the Yale School of Drama. “Through luck and hard work, as well as directly because of Abe’s generous soul and nurturing temperament,” he writes, “I wound up in a similar place.”

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