On this day in 1940, James Burrows, who will go on to have a significant impact on television as the co-creator of the mega-hit sitcom Cheers and the director of such popular, sharp-witted TV series as Taxi and Will & Grace, is born in Los Angeles.
Raised in New York City, Burrows graduated from Oberlin College and received a master’s degree in theater from Yale University. During the 1970s, he directed episodes of such popular sitcoms as The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show and Laverne & Shirley. From 1978 to 1982, Burrows was the principal director of Taxi, a sitcom about New York City cab drivers featuring an ensemble cast that included Judd Hirsch, Danny DeVito, Tony Danza, Marilu Henner, Jeff Conaway, Andy Kaufman and Christopher Lloyd.
Burrows and the former Taxi writers Glen Charles and Les Charles went on to develop a show called Cheers, which centers around a group of employees and regular patrons at a Boston-based watering hole. Cheers, which premiered on September 30, 1982, on NBC, starred Ted Danson as Sam Malone, a former professional baseball player and ladies man who runs the bar. The Cheers cast also included Woody Harrelson, John Ratzenberger, George Wendt, Rhea Perlman, Kirstie Alley and Kelsey Grammer (as snooty psychiatrist Frasier Crane). Though Cheers was almost cancelled due to poor first-season ratings, it eventually became a massive hit with audiences and was nominated for more than 100 Emmy Awards, winning 28. The final episode of Cheers, which aired on May 20, 1993, attracted over 80 million viewers, making it one of the top-rated finales in TV history.
Burrows went on to direct multiple episodes of the hit Cheers spinoff Frasier, which starred Kelsey Grammer and originally aired from 1993 to 2004. Burrows also lent his Midas touch to the long-running sitcom Friends by helming the pilot as well as more than a dozen other episodes. Friends, which originally aired from 1994 to 2004 and co-starred Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox Arquette, Lisa Kudrow, David Schwimmer, Matthew Perry and Matt LeBlanc, was another huge ratings success. During the 1990s, Burrows also directed pilots for such shows as Wings, Caroline in the City, NewsRadio, 3rd Rock from the Sun and Dharma & Greg.
In 1998, Burrows became an executive producer of Will & Grace and reportedly directed every episode of the sitcom, which originally aired through May 18, 2006. The show starred Debra Messing as Grace, an interior designer, and Eric McCormack as Grace’s best friend Will, a gay attorney. Sean Hayes played Will and Grace’s flamboyant friend Jack, while Megan Mullaly co-starred as Grace’s wealthy, pill-popping assistant Karen. The wildly popular Will & Grace was the first network sitcom to feature homosexual main characters. More recently, Burrows has directed such shows as the short-lived Back to You (2007-2008) with Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton.