Monday, August 28, 2017

Who directs what?

Again, thanks to all for your lovely sentiments.  I'll let you in on a little secret.  Knowing this was about to come, I prepared a few blog posts in advance.  So today I have a Friday Question that became an entire post.

Melissa Agar wonders:

I recently happened to catch an episode of Cheers written by Levine and Isaacs and directed by James Burrows. I thought to myself, "Wow. This is a Rolls Royce episode." Which leads to my question ... what sort of input is had in determining who directs whose episodes or who writes whose episodes? Do writers have the opportunity to request a specific director or vice versa? Or is it all just luck of the draw and who is available?

First of all, that’s very nice of you to say. No, generally for writers, it’s the luck of the draw. For multi-camera shows, a lot of directors will do an entire season. Partly, this is because there are fewer multi-camera shows and directors no longer have the luxury of variety – do a few episodes of one show then do a few of another. Now they cling to every assignment they can.

Single-camera shows are different. They require several days of preparation time so any one director can’t direct an entire season. At best you have two who alternate. Multi-camera shows don’t need that prep time.  One guy can do all 22. 

But let’s say there are multiple directors on the schedule (either single or multi-cam). They’re slotted based on availability and assigned shows (by the showrunner usually) based on what scripts are available and if there are some special requirements.   It's not like baseball where certain pitchers have certain catchers. 

If we had a real complicated show on FRASIER, like a car crashing through a restaurant, we tried to assign that episode to Jim Burrows. If possible. If Jimmy wasn’t slated to direct an episode for two months and we weren’t that far ahead on scripts we would assign it to one of the other directors.

When I was showrunning ALMOST PERFECT I directed an episode that had a huge pie fight. It was crazy complicated, but I was scheduled to direct the final episode of the season and as it turned out that was the one. So I did it to myself.

It’s also the luck of the draw for the director because if you’re a freelancer and you happen to draw a weak script it can unfortunately reflect badly on you. (And happily, the reverse is true. You get a great script you look like Billy Wilder.)

But David Isaacs and I have been extremely lucky. We’ve had Jim Burrows direct shows of ours on four different series. And of the 40 CHEERS we wrote, I think Jimmy directed 39 of them. Jimmy also directed an episode we wrote and acted in – THE MARSHALL CHRONICLES. He even got decent performances out of a couple of knuckleheads who had no idea what they were doing.

And finally, besides Jim Burrows we’ve been truly blessed to have had scripts of ours directed by Alan Alda, David Lee, Jerry Zaks, Scott Ellis, Andy Ackerman, Gene Reynolds, Danny DeVito, Burt Metcalfe, and numerous others. All of them made us better than we are.


littlejohn said...


Just catching up with a couple of days of posts. Thoughts and prayer to you and your family on the lose of your dad.

warm regards,


MellaBlue said...

Thanks for answering my question, but my sincere condolences on the loss of your dad. What a blessing to have had him in your life so long! I lost my dad when I was 25, and I feel that absence every single day.

Paul B said...

"All of them made us better than we are." Your class is a real tribute to your father.

E. Yarber said...

I'm in mourning for a close relative myself. Don't know what to say beyond best wishes.

VP81955 said...

Just heard about your loss. My condolences.

Sebastiaan said...

My sincere condolences for your loss. It's always difficult when someone close to you passes on.