James Burrows might be the greatest director in television history. He's the winner of 10 Emmys, and he's been nominated for 42 in total.
His name has graced the "directed by" credit of some of the greatest TV comedies ever made, including almost every episode of Taxi, Cheers, and Will & Grace. (The list of shows he worked on for a season or an episode or two is even longer, and includes series like Friends, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and The Big Bang Theory.) He continues to work to this day, signing on as the regular director for the upcoming NBC sitcom Crowded.
Yet the odds are quite good you don't know his immense legacy, and if you know his name, it's from being one of the co-creators of Cheers. Burrows is a giant in his field, but TV directors tend to work in anonymity.
NBC is hoping to change that with a two-hour special, commemorating his 1,000th episode of television, that will unite the casts of many of his shows to pay tribute to him. The special airs Sunday, February 21, at 9 pm Eastern.
In order to get a better sense of Burrows's work, check out the video at the top of this article, from Mike Spry and Steven Santos of Indiewire's Press Play blog (a publication dedicated to critical video essays). The clips selected will reveal just how good Burrows is at making you laugh, how easily he builds setups, punchlines, and everything else that makes for great comedy.
As Spry notes in his video narration, TV comedy is slowly shrinking away, as dramas and reality programs gain in influence. But the series Burrows worked on remain hugely popular and influential, even long after they've left the air.
The format he works in — the live studio audience sitcom, filmed more like a stage play than a film — can seem like a dying art form, but rarely in the hands of this director, whose work will resonate as long as people need a good laugh after a long day.