Director James Burrows and Actor Jason Bateman at The Wallis
On June 6, Hollywood industry legend, director and show creator James Burrows sat down for a chat with actor/ long-time friend Jason Bateman. Held at the Bram Goldsmith Theater at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, the event was presented in conjunction with Writers Bloc. It was timed to coincide with the release of the new memoir, “Directed by James Burrows.”
Burrows’ name is associated with some of the most memorable — if not iconic — sitcoms in the history of television, including “The Bob Newhart Show,” “Taxi,” “Cheers,” “Frasier,” “Will & Grace,” “Friends,” and “Mike & Molly.” As Burrows noted, “Sam and Diane” (from “Cheers”) has become part of the comedic vernacular, needing no further explanation.
His remarkable career began with “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” the result of a cheeky letter he wrote to Moore, an acquaintance, asking for a job on the show. The letter is reprinted in his memoir.
With the exception of 1997, Burrows was nominated for an Emmy every year from 1980 to 2005 and directed nearly 1,050 television episodes (he hit the 1,000 mark in 2015). Bateman revealed Burrows is alternately known as the “Laugh Doctor” or “Laugh Maker.”
Burrows is known for fostering a harmonious set, not easy to do in an industry known for egos that need salving. Bateman praised Burrows’ ability to create “an ecosystem that lends itself to a trust that permeates the set.” He noted fondly that he met Burrows when he was 15, adding that he’s currently 53, and cited the director as his “fourth favorite person in the world,” following his wife of 21 years, Amanda Anka, and his two children.
In the audience at The Wallis were writers as well as actor Sean Hayes, whom Bateman frequently referenced.
Burrows is the father of four women “all of whom are employed.” He added they’re “Beverly Hills girls, they all grew up here.” Nepotism, both Burrows and Bateman acknowledged, is pervasive in entertainment. Bateman’s father Kent is a movie producer and director who managed his son’s career for 20 years. Burrows’ was Tony award-winning humorist, writer and director Abe Burrows, winner of two Pulitzers. “My father opened the door,” said Burrows, “and when I [went in it] I was ready [in my mid 30s]. Make sure you are ready; a second opportunity is nearly impossible.”
When asked if there was a series he wished he had worked on, Burrows said “‘Curb Your Enthusiasm.’ It makes me laugh so hard and always surprises me; 90% of humor is the element of surprise.”