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NBC Pays Tribute to the Great James Burrows (Not just a Friends Reunion!)


          In the past week a number of internet media outlets were going crazy about the Friends reunion that happened last night on NBC. All these headlines of “Friends Reunion on TV this Sunday!” or “Why isn’t Chandler attending the Friends Reunion?” were floating about and it pissed me off. Not because I particularly dislike Friends (it was an okay show) or have anything against the cast reuniting, but because no one gave a damn about the reason for the reunion. Everyone was so focussed on seeing Jennifer Aniston, Matt Le Blanc, and co. together again that nobody seemed interested in the fact that the reunion was only one of a number of TV cast get-togethers to celebrate the legacy of arguably the greatest sitcom director, James Burrows.
          In my opinion James Burrows’ career is much more worthy of focus than six people from a 90’s show being in the same room together. This is a man whose career has spanned decades and multiple TV shows since the 1970s. In fact across more than thirty shows, Burrows has now with the pilot episode of the series Crowded directed 1000 episodes of TV comedy. From The Bob Newhart Show and Mary Tyler Moore to Taxi, Cheers which he co-created, Frasier, Wings, Friends, Third Rock from the Sun, Will & Grace, and unfortunately a number of Chuck Lorre projects, he’s amassed a marvellous body of work and earned a reputation greater than any other director in his field.
          His milestone 1000th episode was the reason for last night’s celebration, An All-Star Tribute to James Burrows which saw the casts of numerous shows he’s directed get together, reminisce about their series and working with Burrows. His involvement with a show was seen by many in the casts he worked with as being a blessing, and though he has worked on a number of failed sitcoms and pilots, the success ratio is pretty high. And this special delighted in that.
          The cast of Will & Grace discussed Burrows’ quirks and the show’s status as a groundbreaker for LGBT representation, while the casts of The Big Bang Theory and Mike & Molly shared more recent memories. David Hyde-Pierce, Jane Leeves, and Peri Gilpin talked about how Burrows brought great farcical moments to Frasier and in a pre-recorded sketch which featured Kelsey Grammer in New York expressed their irritation with the series theme song written and performed by Grammer. One of my favourite moments was the reunion of the cast of Taxi, Burrows’ first major series. Judd Hirsch, Danny DeVito, Tony Danza, Marilu Henner, Carol Kane, and Christopher Lloyd clearly enjoyed being together again talking about Burrows’ odd reaction to really great jokes and classic moments from the show (like Reverend Jim’s famous drivers test; google it!). And of course the cast of Cheers who in my opinion are still the best ensemble in a comedy series. They ought to have gotten more screen-time considering Burrows co-created that show and that it takes up more than a quarter of his directorial credits. But Ted Danson, Shelley Long, Rhea Perlman, John Ratzenberger, and George Wendt were wonderful. Even Woody Harrelson though not there in person, contributed something for Burrows by appearing in a pre-recorded bit talking about the reunion over the phone alongside Sean Hayes, Ted Danson, Tony Danza, Jim Parsons, and Eric McCormack. Yeah, a celebration of James Burrows’ legacy was important enough for Woody Harrelson to take part! (There was also a kinda out-of-place PSA sketch presented by Gary Sinise drawing attention to the sadness of George Wendt continually being called “Norm” at inopportune times) And yes the Friends reunion did happen and was given slightly more time than the other casts because of the hype. Though their interviewer tried a few gossipy questions (like whether they signed contracts not to sleep with each other, fucking really??), the cast managed to keep the focus of the night relatively on the man of the hour. Jennifer Aniston, Matt Le Blanc, Courtney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, and David Schwimmer talked about their time together, their friendship, and how Burrows would poke fun at the similarities of their characters to those from Taxi, Mary Tyler Moore,etc. (which I’d never noticed before, but yeah!). At the end of the night Sean Hayes and Jason Bateman presented a video montage of Burrows working on various sets with many of his actors pouring out their heart and souls to the man who gave them a career, and finally there were some moving words from Burrows himself thanking everyone profusely and taking gratitude in the great opportunities he’s had over the decades.
          The whole event felt like a celebration of sitcom history. And that statement alone speaks volumes to James Burrows’ legacy. He’s been a huge part of television history working on many of the most influential comedies of all time. Hell, some of his earliest work was on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, arguably the mother of most modern sitcoms, and he’s stuck with the genre ever since shaping it and defining it for or better or worse. Sure he’s only worked in multi-camera shows -the environment where he developed his craft after all, and for a man who clearly has a great sense of humour has directed for a number of shows without one (again the Chuck Lorre schlock comes to mind). But James Burrows has had a hand in creating characters, places, and just wonderful atmospheres that will never be forgotten. Everybody may not know his name, but they know his work, and its a body of work that no other director in television can boast.
          Here’s to you, James Burrows!

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