James Burrows Interview: ‘Will and Grace’ director
If you ask James Burrows why he chose to direct all 246 episodes of NBC’s “Will and Grace,” the 10-time Emmy-winning director has a very simple answer: “It made me laugh, really hard!” The legendary director and member of the TV Academy Hall of Fame has credits including “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Taxi,” “Cheers” and “Friends.” This year, Burrows earned his 43rd career Emmy nomination for directing “We Love Lucy,” the NBC sitcom’s tribute to the classic Lucille Ball show. In our exclusive video interview (watch above), Burrows discusses his long history in television and why he believes in the multi-camera comedy format.
When “Will and Grace,” returned after almost a decade off the air, even Burrows was skeptical about the possibility of a reunion. That skepticism disappeared once the cast sat down for a table read. “It was explosive around the table,” recalls Burrows. “Nobody had lost a beat.” Burows says that the chemistry between the four main actors, all of whom won Emmys for their performances, was something that came down to luck. However Burrows also believes that casting actors that aren’t household names. “The excitement of an audience growing to know these people together makes it really special. That happened on ‘Cheers’ and on ‘Friends.'”
Burrows’ nominated episode, “We Love Lucy,” features the “Will and Grace” cast recreating classic scenes from “I Love Lucy.” The director says that the main challenge of the show was a technical one, particularly as several members of the cast played different roles in the many scenes. “Putting two girls and a guy in a Lucy outfit, and then changing them to a Fred outfits, and then changing them back to a Lucy outfit, I think the technical coordination was the most difficult thing,” explains Burrows. In some cases, Burrows mimicked the camera angle’s of the “I Love Lucy’s” original directors. “I owe them a debt of gratitude,” he says.
Burrows brushes aside any talk about the “death” of the multi-camera sitcom. “I’ve been at the funeral for the multi-camera sitcom many times,” he jokes. “I’ve broken out my dark suit a number of times and followed the hearse. But as long as we have people like Chuck Lorre around, this form is not going to die.” Burrows, who directed the pilot of Lorre’s “The Big Bang Theory,” sees the genre as something completely different from single-camera comedies. “Multi-camera comedy has to make a full audience of 250 laugh. So I think the jokes have to be better and harder,” he argues. “That’s the form that I love and that’s the form that Chuck Lorre loves.”