Posts Tagged ‘TV director’

Remembering Jack Shea

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

We’re sad to hear of the passing of director Jack Shea, who died of complications from Alzheimer’s disease on Sunday, April 28th, 2013 at the age of 84. Shea directed many of Bob Hope’s television specials, as well as several series, including The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, The Waltons, Sanford and Son, The Jeffersons, Good Times, The Ropers, Silver Spoons, and Designing Women. Shea also served as a three-time president of the Directors Guild of America and was active with The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences when it split ties with The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences in 1977.

Below are some excerpts from his 2002 Archive interview:

On directing Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis in their respective television shows:

Somebody on the Hope Show – they were changing directors – remembered my work and said, :we ought to hire Shea.” It was a tremendous thrill. I had this chance to direct one of the big live shows in those days. I got that opportunity and I did it. Everything worked. It was a wonderful time, but I remember doing that and then I suddenly got a bid from Jerry Lewis to work on one of his shows. He called me in and he said, “You’re doing the Hope show, huh?” And I said, “Yeah.” He said, “I also want you to do my show.” And I said, “okay.” Then I realized that Jerry was watching anybody that did the Hope show – that was the leading show at that point. So I had the great opportunity of doing the Bob Hope shows and also the Jerry Lewis shows. That was all live, you know, and it was wild times. I mean they both were very interesting characters, totally different personalities, because Bob was very in control and he had the writers that did his material for him and he was always the same character that you see you now.  Rarely, rarely got terribly upset.  And Jerry, of course, was frenetic. I liked both of them and enjoyed working with both of them.

On Bob Hope’s legacy:

I mean he’s just one of the most outstanding characters. I think he will be thought of for many, many, many years, because I think he was just such a dynamic character. When he walked in a room, you know, he did that little walk that was so very specifically Bob Hope. I think he will be remembered for a long time. He’s so identified with helping the troops by being there and supporting them.  And the troops knew that, too. The marvelous receptions that he got when he’d be going out for the troops… He’s quite extraordinary.

On how he began directing Sanford and Son:

I had been doing something else for Normal Lear at that time. That was one of Norman’s shows, he and Bud Yorkin. I was doing some other shows for them at that point and when they got that show, they had a few problems when they were getting started. Redd Foxx and the directors were having problems, and I think that in the first four or five shows they had four or five directors. I came in with great trepidation, and I got along fine. I think I had one fight the whole long time on the show.  When I say fight, one disagreement. It was a tough one to do, because you had a lot of people who had specific ideas about how they wanted their material, but as I remember, it worked out pretty well. It was a funny show. Redd was really something else. Every rehearsal was hysterical. It took a long time to get work done, but we had a lot of laughs and laughs are important.

On directing The Jeffersons:

I honestly can’t remember exactly how I became involved with it, but I just know that it was a great experience and I think I had done so much work with Norman Lear and the other people there, that when it came up I was the guy they felt would be comfortable with it. And I certainly was. We just had a wonderful association. We worked together for a long time and had a great time. When you start a show and you’re not sure how it’s going to go, you always feel sort of uncomfortable… And then suddenly when you hit, boy you really hit it. The way I know a show was really making it – when my kids would come home and tell me that the kids in class were doing “The Jeffersons” and walking like George. Then I knew we had a hit. And we did have a hit. Boy it was just great. Such a great combination of people.

On his approach to directing actors:

I like to use the instincts that actors have. Now when I lay out my work, I know that sometimes an actor has to be at a certain spot at a certain time in order to make something work that has to be there. And I have to find justification for getting that actor to that place without just saying, “get up and move, Charlie.”  I just find I just try to talk to actors same way I like them to talk to me. I tell them what I’m looking for and what I think they ought to do in a particular case. If they disagree and have another opinion I listen to it. Then I make up my mind as to which way it’s gotta be, and I just try to make the case going and will listen to anything they have to say. But it’s going to be my decision, because it’s my responsibility.

On his involvement with what would become the Directors Guild of America:

When I started my career, for some reason I always felt that good union representation is important, in our business especially, because I think it protects the actor, the director, the writer and I think we all need that protection. I think the director needs that protection. When I started in the business, I got interested in trying to be part of that protection, because I saw directors being misused or abused in some cases, and for the sake of not only the individuals but for the sake of the whole craft, I think we need to be able to protect people so that they can do their jobs as well as they can do them. In some cases that wasn’t occurring. And I think I was anxious to see if I could help in allowing people to direct who wanted to direct. That’s why I got involved.

On how he’d like to be remembered:

As being a good or capable, honest director. That’s about all I can ask for.

Watch his full Archive interview and read his obituary in the Los Angeles Times.

Remembering William Asher

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

The Archive is sad to report that director/producer William Asher passed away on Monday, July 16, 2012 at the age of 90. Asher got his big break at Desilu, first directing episodes of Our Miss Brooks, and then becoming a regular director of I Love Lucy (he directed the famous “Job Switching” episode where Lucy and Ethel work in a candy factory). Asher went on to direct episodes of The Danny Thomas Show, co-created The Patty Duke Show with writer Sidney Sheldon, and created Bewitched for then-wife Elizabeth Montgomery. Asher also directed JFK’s Inaugural Ball and the President’s famous Birthday Special with guest singer Marilyn Monroe.

Here are some selections from Asher’s 2000 Archive interview:

On how directing Our Miss Brooks led to directing I Love Lucy:

I had a contract to do the first ten if Our Miss Brooks sold, and it did. And Lucy and Desi and everybody wanted me to come on and do their show. So everything happened at once. I found myself doing both shows at the same time. That was a challenge, because they overlapped during the week. I’d work the first couple of days rehearsing Our Miss Brooks and then I’d start with Lucy. I don’t remember quite how it worked, but I did those first ten shows and broke in Sheldon Leonard as the director.

On directing the “Job Switching” episode of I Love Lucy:

It was one of the most memorable of the shows, actually. It was where she and Ethel got a job, dipping candy, chocolates. The boys would take care of the house, do all the home work, and the girls would go out and make a living while Ricky and Fred made dinner and cleaned up the apartments. It didn’t work either way. We did scenes with Desi and Fred messing up the house and dinner and everything, while we were cross-cutting with Vivian and Lucy screwing up dipping the chocolate. It was quite a wild scene or scenes, I should say – both sides of it.  They came home a wreck and the guys were a wreck, then everything got back together again.

On working with William Frawley on I Love Lucy:

On directing three cameras at Desilu (the first studio to use three):

The cameras came in and they were rehearsed and they were all marked on the floor what the scene was – little tapes – and what number it was in terms of their movement. They would follow the A, B, C, whichever letter, and go from one, two, three, four, five, six – whatever the numbers were and the character. We had no trouble at all with that and it seemed to baffle people. I don’t know why, but people would come and ask, “how do you do this?” It was really very simple.

On Lucille Ball telling Desi Arnaz that she was pregnant with Desi Jr., during the taping of I Love Lucy:

When she was pregnant with Desi, little Desi, we wrote it into the story so that she was actually pregnant. One of our best shows was when she told Desi she was pregnant. She kept trying to tell him and he just didn’t hear it. She went down to the club, she sat there on the chair and he had a song he was going to sing to someone who was pregnant in the audience, and she set it up. I forget exactly how we did that, but he went around the room singing this song, “We’re Having a Baby,” and he came to her and she said “yes,” then he went on and two people later he had his double-take that she had nodded yes. He ran back to the table and he said, “really?” and she said, “yes.” And he sang to her. It was very moving. It really was.

On directing JFK’s Inaugural Ball:

It was a fabulous show. We had a cast of people that you could never, ever achieve.  Closed two Broadway shows with actors who came in to do the show. The weather was terrible. Just awful. The show went on about two hours late because people couldn’t get there. I know we picked up a couple of people who were stranded. But when everybody got there, at the armory, the show went on and it was wonderful.

On being scheduled to have dinner with Peter Lawford and Marilyn Monroe the night Monroe died:

The night that she killed herself Peter Lawford called me. We were going to have dinner with her, and Peter called me and said, “I can’t get her on the phone. I’ve been calling.” I had been down at the beach with her and Peter, and she left with her publicity girl, whose name escapes me. He said, “I can’t get her on the phone, the line’s busy. Why don’t we cancel dinner and I’ll keep trying to get her, and if I can you can come on down to the beach (where he lived).” I said, “fine,” and he called me again, then he called me again about twelve o’clock, and he said, “I’m worried about her. I think we should go over and see what’s happening at the house.” I said, “Peter, I don’t think we should do that. I think she’s probably asleep with pills and she’ll be fine.” He said, “well, I’m worried.” I said, “I tell you what you do. Call Joe Kennedy.” Joe Kennedy and I had become very friendly, and I said, “you call Joe and ask him what to do.”  He did and Joe told him, “under no circumstances go there.” There’s just nothing to be gained. It was about three or four o’clock he called me, and he said that Mrs. Murphy, her maid, had called her doctor, who came over and broke into her bedroom, and she was dead. Whether or not Peter and I going there earlier would have saved her life, I don’t know. That haunts me.

On shooting The Patty Duke Show:

United Artists had a deal with me to do a pilot, and they selected Patty… We did the pilot here and she played two characters, and playing two characters took a lot of time. We’d have to stop it and she would change and it was a hard show to do. Under the children’s labor laws of California, there was a limit of only, I don’t know, eight hours or something when she could work. When the show sold we went to New York where there were no rules. The little boy who played her brother – their family didn’t want to go to New York, so we were in New York and we recast the little brother, and he was playing “Oliver” in the show “Oliver.” He was in the show ’til midnight and on our set at eight o’clock in the morning. Nobody complained about it.  It was fine.

On creating Bewitched:

Liz and I had done a movie together, Johnny Cool, and we started going together, and we got married, and I was busy doing television and so was she. She made up her mind she didn’t want to work anymore. She insisted upon it. She had an offer of some kind and she turned it down, and she just wasn’t going to work anymore. I said, “this is not right. This isn’t fair. You’re too good. You just don’t belong retired.” We’d had a baby, and she said, “I don’t want to leave the baby, and I don’t want to be away from you. I just don’t want to work.” I suggested, “what if we do something together, how would you feel about that?” She said,”I would do that. If you can find something.” So I wrote something. I was doing a pilot with Paul Lynde, and I wrote something for us to do and submitted it to Columbia, and they liked it, but they said it’s close to something else that we have. My script was about a young girl, like a Gidget character, who was going with a boy on the beach, and there were no last names on the beach. The beach kids all had only first names. They were in love and they got married and on the night of their marriage she tells him that she’s the daughter of J. Paul Getty or the equivalent. He was furious. He said, “that’s something you tell him after you marry him? You tell before!” They had quite a scene about that. He said, “your family’ll be interfering all the time.” They had a house at the beach on stilts, and he worked at a gas station, and when the surf was up, he was out there with her. That was the basic idea… Columbia said, “we have something here that was written for Tammy Grimes and we like it and want you to read it. Well, I read it to Elizabeth and she liked it very much. The problem with it was it was dark, it was very witchy. It was boiling cauldrons and cobwebs and quite witchy. I didn’t like that. I thought she should be the girl-next-door, what she ultimately became. I went back to Columbia and I said, “let me do a rewrite on this,” and they said, “if we like it we’ll do it.” I did the rewrite. Elizabeth typed it, they liked it and we did it. It was all very quick.

On “Samantha’s” nose twitch on Bewitched:

That was something that I saw Elizabeth do. I was looking for something that was inherent in her to motivate the witchcraft, and I didn’t want to do any abracadabra stuff. She had done that, and when I first realized that would make a good motivator for the witchcraft I told her about it, and I tried to show her what it was, and she said, “I’ve never done anything like that.” I said, “you have, and I want to use it.” She said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I kept after her and as we got closer and closer to doing the show, I kept pushing on her to try and remember it. The night before we did the show she was at the bar making a drink and she spilled something or did some kind of a mistake, and she did it, and I said, “that’s it, that’s it!” She did it, “that?” I said, “that’s it. That is it.” She said, “I don’t want to do that.” I said, “yes, you do. That’s it.” That’s how it was born.

On directing 1960’s beach party films:

The idea came from American International Pictures. Sam Arkoff and Jim Nicholson came to me to do a beach concept, and they had a script and it wasn’t right at all. It was like all the others. It just wasn’t very good, or at least I didn’t think so. I felt that the beach pictures should be about young people having a good time, with no heavies, no parents, no last names, no sex. Just fun. When I told them that they said, “well, what would it be about?” I said, “just what I said – it would be about having a good time.” I’d have comedy heavies in it and I’d have a bike group, which would be the Von Zipper and his gang, and treat it all comically. It would just be fun. They accepted it.

On advice to an aspiring director:

Directing is an instinctive thing. It’s knowing the material, understanding it, getting that character out of the actor. There are no tricks to it. You’re in charge of everything. You’re in charge of the cameramen, the photography is in your hands, the casting, the art direction… The whole package is the director. Even though there’s a producer, it’s in the director’s hands. It’s a very taxing job. It’s hard work. It really is. You get there early, you’re the first one there, and you’ll be the last one to leave. It’s a lot of work. Very tough. I don’t know how you’d break someone in. I’ve done it, but I did it just in the way I explained it to you. You’ve got to be prepared to do that and know how to do it. A lot of people have that and a lot of people don’t.

On how he’d like to be remembered:

I think as a good director. That’s it.

Watch William Asher’s full Archive interview

Read his obituary in The Hollywood Reporter

Director/Producer Bob Finkel Dies at 94

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

The Archive is sad to learn of the death of Bob Finkel, who passed away of age-related complications on April 30, 2012. Finkel produced numerous hits of the 1950s and 1960s, including The Eddie Fisher Show, The Dinah Shore Chevy Show, and The Andy Williams Show, along with multiple broadcasts of The People’s Choice Awards, Oscars, and Emmy Awards. He also produced Elvis: The ‘68 Comeback Special.

Here are some selections from Finkel’s 1997 Archive Interview:

On directing Natalie Wood in Pride of the Family:

There was a scene in which Natalie couldn’t go to the high school graduation, she couldn’t get a date. Paul, her father, ultimately goes with her. When she didn’t get the date she had to look at her father and cry. So we rehearsed that sequence on a couple of occasions, and never did she cry. Normally when you rehearse those things you don’t ask performers to cry, until they get ready. We now got to like the last rehearsal, and I said to Natalie, “I would like to see this scene how it plays, and I want you to cry.” And this little bitty thing looked up to me, and she said, “Mr. Finkel, when I see that camera turn over, then you’ll see my tears.” That’s the way it was. When we rolled the camera, she cried and went all over the floor.

On following key light:

I developed the idea of following the key light. I did my scenes wherever the key light was. “Is this a key light?” I would do every scene where that key light was, so that they didn’t have to re-light the sequence. I would even go very much out of order. I was saving time by following the key light. I did that.

On The Dinah Shore Show:

I must tell you that everybody on the staff had to drive Chevrolets. They gave us Chevrolets. That was the good old days, and each year we got a different one. Because if you were a member of the staff of The Dinah Shore Show, you couldn’t be seen in a Ford. So they gave us the cars; they leased them to us. The format was not unlike the formats that I used in most of these musical variety shows. It was some big production number to get started, and a welcoming from the star, and talking about her guests. Maybe in Dinah’s case, a sketch about a luau in Hawaii, because she was there the last week on a little vacation. The word that we devised for that kind of thing was “true lies.” We based those things on something that happened to her, but then we lied it up a little bit. They were “true lies.”

On the Osmond Brothers first appearance on The Andy Williams Show:

I remember vividly the night that the father of the Osmond Brothers had been pestering us to listen to their barbershop quartet winners: The Osmond Brothers. It was very hard at the end of evening, after you finished taping, to stop and go into another studio and listen to four kids sing “Danny Boy.” Finally the father got to me, and I told Andy, I said, “let’s do this guy a favor and listen to the kids,” which we did. The kids’ barbershop stuff was brilliant, and Andy was terribly impressed. We bought them that evening for, I think three performances. They just became big smash hits. They were so cute. We even had the mother and father on a couple of times. The father played saxophone; the mother sang. They were just endearing. Andy used to sit with them on the stairs in the audience and talk to them. They had these wonderful little faces and they sang so great with him, and they were big hits. Their career just accelerated, and they became big stars.

On winning an Emmy for The Perry Como Show while producing the Emmy broadcast:

I was in the truck, about a block away from the stage. I’m sitting in there, and the guy said, “the outstanding achievement goes to The Perry Como Show. Bob Finkel, producer.”  I couldn’t believe it. I ran out of the truck, and ran down the street to go into the theater. A guy that I knew said, “hi, Bob.” Passing me I said, “I can’t talk to you now, I just won an Emmy Award.” I went into the theater, went up on stage, got my Emmy, took it in my arm, and I started to come back, and the guy was still waiting for me. He said, “I thought you were lying to me. I’ll be dammed. Congratulations.” I said, “I can’t talk to you right now,” and I went back to the truck.

On his Peabody-winning Julie Andrews special:

MCA came to me and said, “you know, there’s a girl we’re bringing over from England that’s been a big hit, by the name of Julie Andrews. We want to do a special with her.” I said, “well I don’t want to do a special with her right away.” I said, “I’ll tell you what we’ll do. We’ll put her on The Andy Williams Show as a guest and let’s see what happens.” Of course she was just as adorable as she always is. She was wonderful. She then went to New York and did “My Fair Lady.” Then we were going to do a special with Julie Andrews, because she proved that she could handle a special. I got a hold of Alan Handley, another legendary name in television. Alan was a producer-director for NBC, and together we designed a show for her. We got Gene Kelly to be on the show.

On Elvis: The ‘68 Comeback Special:

Colonel Parker, Elvis’ manager and mentor, wanted to do a special in order to hype Elvis’ record sales. I was introduced to Elvis at Paramount, and to the Colonel, and we had a great many meetings before it was decided among all of us that I was the guy and that Elvis would do the show. Colonel Parker wanted a concert show, and I didn’t want to do that. I did what now is called The Comeback Special. In order to execute the ideas that I had, which was more or less what I had been doing in musical variety, with the exception there was less talk – there were production numbers and audience participation that Elvis did in that arena situation – in order to accomplish that I hired Steve Binder, who was another up-and-coming creative director, and I gave him producing and directing credit. We formed what became The Elvis Presley Special … Elvis was truly professional. Very, very nice man. Very respectful of a director, respectful of a producer. Expressed his opinion. He never hid his feelings about things, but listened. He was a pleasure to work with.  It was a wonderful, marvelous experience, and we knew that we had a great show. It wasn’t very long into the rehearsal that we knew we had something.

On his friend, Bing Crosby:

Bing was colorblind, but really colorblind. There are different stages of colorblindness. He said to me one time, “do you want to go to the track?” Now most guys when they go to the track they have their driver, they have a car. Bing’s got this old Toyota. Just him in the car and me. We’re driving along, and we come to the stop light. And I said, “Bing, how do you know when to stop?” He said, “Bob, it’s simple. When the top is on that means it’s green, when the bottom is on – no, wait a minute. When the bottom is on… no, when the top, now the middle one…”  I said, “let me out of the car, Bing. If you don’t know which one it is, I don’t want to be driving with you.”  He would get on the stage with a blue sock and a white sock.

Watch Bob Finkel’s Full Archive interview.

Director Paul Bogart Dies at 92

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

The Archive of American Television is sad to report that director Paul Bogart passed away on Sunday, April 15th of age-related causes. He was 92. Bogart started his career in live television in New York, directing episodes of Kraft Television Theatre, and Armstrong Circle Theatre. From there he went on to direct films and several TV dramas and comedies. He directed over 20 episodes of The Defenders and more than 100 of All in the Family, winning one of his many Emmys for “Edith’s 50th Birthday,” in which Edith Bunker fends off a would-be-rapist.

Here are some selections from Bogart’s three-and-a-half-hour interview:

On being hired as an NBC Floor Manager:

They now call it stage manager. At the time it was floor manager, but they want a little more dignity now so it’s a stage manger. You herded the cast around. You made sure they were there, like a stage manager. You relay instructions from the director over a headset to them if you were on the air, if not you spoke to them over the studio address system, and you cued them went to start, and timed them – you had to figure out hand signals. I had no idea. I made them up … Everybody was making up his job at the time. The directors were making up their time, there were people that had some experience in radio or some minor experience on Broadway, but television was a mystery to everybody. I never learned how a television camera works, and I never want to. And I never learned how a film camera works. I’m not interested in the mechanics of the job. I just want to know what I can do.

On his process for learning how to direct:

Do. I just did it. I used to watch other people’s work; I did it to enjoy it. I’m a great audience, I’d just sit there. I’ll believe anything you tell me, if you tell it right.

On working with writers:

I work with writers always – if they were there – sometimes they would grab the money and run to Bermuda or something. But if the writer was around, I would meet with them and we’d talk about the script, we’d have script sessions … Some of them hated me because if I didn’t like the work, I would direct it away from me, from the way it was written … if it called for heavy emotion, tears, weeping and wailing, and the situation didn’t warrant it, I couldn’t ask an actor to do that. I’d say, “this is not that serious,” so we would adopt a different way to deal with it, and some writers didn’t like that. I think one or two of them wanted to kill me.

On how videotape changed directing:

As soon as you could start making mistakes everything changed. At first you would videotape the whole show straight through as a live show. Then they would play the tape on the air. Then you would have a dress rehearsal, you’d have an air show, you want to combine them … they wouldn’t let you do anything but black to black. When they figured out mechanical systems where you edited electronically by assembly, adding shot after shot instead of literally cutting the tape, you didn’t have to cut anymore, you just had to shoot us. Then the world opened up.

On his favorite episode of The Defenders that he directed:

I used to beg them to do a comedy, cause I was so tired of serious stuff, so I did a comedy called “The 700 Year Old Gang” which was about an old Jewish man who makes wine in his basement and gives it to his friends. Jack Gilford played that and then is I think sued by the government. That became a two parter. That was two hours. That won Emmys.

On returning to directing for television after directing films:

I don’t love television more than films; I never got to same material in films that I got in television. In films, somebody else would get the good scripts before they came to me, and I knew I wasn’t getting top material. Also, I made some mistakes, I turned down things I shouldn’t have done, and missed a couple. We all make mistakes. I made some loo-loos.

On directing the All in the Family episode “Edith’s 50th Birthday:”

On working in front of a live audience on All in the Family:

It’s elevating. It really sparks up the material. Everybody responds to an audience, everybody. Later on when we dropped the audience for the last few shows, I forget how many, I think Carroll just didn’t want to put up with the tension of the performance. Anyway, it just was insane because that audience told you when you went wrong, they taught you what you didn’t do right, they taught you what was good. They made the most of what you didn’t expect they were going to like at all. So you learn a lot. I miss them.

On advice to aspiring directors:

I think an aspiring director should read a lot, expose himself to music, art … because later on he’s going to draw on that knowledge. I draw on everything I ever knew about – painting, music, any kind of art. I use it all the time. I think that’s what a director needs, a good liberal arts education. Instead they learn how to load a camera.

Watch Paul Bogart’s full Archive interview here.

Read his obituary in the Los Angeles Times.

Director John Rich Dies at 86

Monday, January 30th, 2012

The Archive is sad to report that director John Rich passed away yesterday at the age of 86. Rich was one of the most respected and prolific directors in all of television, directing numerous episodes of The Colgate Comedy Hour, Our Miss Brooks, Gunsmoke, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Gilligan’s Island, and All in the Family (including the “Sammy’s Visit” episode), and was instrumental in merging the Screen Directors Guild with the Radio and Television Directors Guild to create the current Directors Guild of America. Here are some selections from Rich’s seven hour interview:

On how he became the main director for The Dick Van Dyke Show:

It came about because of my service to the Guild, oddly enough. I had been doing westerns – I did five years of westerns and that was the hot stuff. But I had been on the Director’s Guild Board of Directors all that time. Sheldon Leonard was on the Board. He walked by me one day, he said, “hey, how would you like to come in out of all the dust?” I said, “and do what?”  He said, “I got a new show with an actor named Dick Van Dyke and Carl Reiner.”  I said, “Carl Reiner?” That got my attention. Van Dyke I had never heard of. I said, “oh, I don’t know, what do you think?” He said, “I think you can do a nice job. I’d like you to come in and meet Carl Reiner and Van Dyke and see if you get along.” Fine. So I was asked to come to Carl Reiner’s house and it very pleasant, and I loved his work on Sid Ceasar’s show. I told him so. And when I met him, I was introduced to Van Dyke and I said, “I thought you were wonderful in ‘Vintage ‘60.’”  And he said, “no, that was  Dick –” some other actor. My introduction to Dick Van Dyke was to compliment him on a play he was not in.  First faux pas, you know.  Then I was going to do the show and I did it and God, it was wonderful.

On directing the opening sequence of The Dick Van Dyke Show:

On being asked to direct new series All in the Family and The Mary Tyler Moore Show on the same day:

It was a curious thing, one of those rare days in the life of a freelance director. I had a call from Mary Tyler Moore saying she’s doing a new show, would I read her script. Jim Brooks and Alan Bergman had written it.  The same day Norman Lear sent me All In the Family. I read both of them. I thought, God, and I called Mary– as a matter of fact, I met with Jim Brooks and Alan.  I said, “you know, having worked with Mary on Dick Van Dyke, I thought this would be a very good show, but it kind of had some overtones of reminiscence. It just feels okay, like another comedy that might be good, but this other thing is outrageous.” It was 1970, and the dialogue that was written then, just blew me away. I called Norman, I said, “you aren’t going to make this, are you?” He said, “yeah.” I said, “is anybody going to put it on?” He said, “they say they will.”  Well, I told Mary, I said, “you know, I really got to do that show even if it’s an exercise.” I don’t know if it’s going to get on, but I was committed to the first 6 shows, whatever it was.

On directing the Emmy-winning “Sammy’s Visit” episode of All in the Family:

On how he’d like to be remembered:

Obituary from The Huffington Post

Obituary from the Los Angeles Times

John Rich’s full Archive Interview

How to Direct, Via Master Director John Frankenheimer

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

John Frankenheimer (1930-2002) directed some of television’s most acclaimed productions on Playhouse 90, Climax! and Danger. In his interview from 2000, Frankenheimer speaks in detail about his craft, techniques, and some of his favorite people to direct. He shares tales of working with Edward R. Murrow and in the clip below, describes the valuable lessons he learned from the legendary David O’ Selznick:

Watch John Frankenheimer’s full interview here:

http://www.emmytvlegends.org/interviews/people/john-frankenheimer

About this interview:

John Frankenheimer (1930-2002) was interviewed for six hours (in two sessions) in Century City, CA. Frankenheimer gives a vivid description of his early television work as an assistant director on You Are There, Danger and Edward R. Murrow’s Person to Person. He speaks about his first directorial assignments on You Are There and Danger and recalls making a name for himself directing live anthology dramas (“The Comedian” and “Days of Wine and Roses”) on Climax! and Playhouse 90. He discusses his feature film work and his return to television to direct the acclaimed programs Andersonville for TNT and George Wallace for HBO. Michael Rosen conducted the two-part interview on March 21 and April 13, 2000.

Remembering Garry Simpson

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

The Archive just learned the sad news of director Garry Simpson’s passing. NBC television’s first stage manager passed away at his home in Middlebury, Vermont on November 19, 2011. Simpson was an instrumental part of the NBC television demonstration at the 1940 World’s Fair, and directed multiple presentations of Chevrolet Tele-Theater, where he worked with Grace Kelly and James Dean.  He also directed Armstrong Circle Theatre, Four Star Revue, and TV’s first sitcom, Mary Kay and Johnny. In 1966 he became Director of Programming for then-fledgling Vermont Public Television.

Here are some selections from Simpson’s four-hour Archive interview:

On audience reactions to the NBC television demonstration at 1940 World’s Fair:

Well, they were amazed, and many of them didn’t ever believe that it was doing what it was doing.  They thought that in the screens there was a little movie projector and we were fooling them.  Some of them didn’t believe – they walked away in disbelief.  But many of them were convinced and were committed to getting TV sets.  The sets were not cheap at the time.  They were seven hundred and fifty to twelve hundred dollars.  And that amount of money bought a lot in those days.  But during the war, they sold about 18,000 sets.  In 1945, when the war was over, in New York City there were 20,000 receivers in homes, and at the start of the war there were just a couple hundred.

On becoming NBC’s first television stage manager:

Well, when the Fair closed NBC hired me as the studio stage manager.  They only had one stage manager at that time and I was it.  And I worked all the shows that they had in their studio.  And I would also go out and direct mobile units, or sporting events and public affairs events.  We’d do the “Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade” and the wrestling and boxing and basketball, hockey.  We did all those programs at that time.  And whenever there was a  film show I got involved in talking with the producers of the film – cutting the film down to size and selecting the segments and then directing the studio segment and integrating the film in the programs.

On televising the Joe Louis – Billy Conn World Championship fight in 1946:

Well, that was a big event for television.  First of all, it was difficult for us to get the rights to televise, because the promoters were afraid we’d cut into the gate.  But they finally came through and said we could do it.  And Yankee Stadium was just abuzz – it was so crowded, jammed, and the excitement was very high.  And people had never seen television cameras at ringside like we had it.  And those type of things really brought in an audience to television in those early days.  And the Rocky Graziano fights we did, they were very dramatic.  And during that period there were some great boxers, and we were able to get in to see.  We had a contract with Madison Square Garden and we could televise everything at Madison Square Garden.

On directing Mary Kay and Johnny:

It was a situation comedy, yes, between a married couple.  And Mary Kay was sort of a Lucille Ball type character.  And Johnny was the patient husband who always got her out of her problems.  And they picked up a sponsor.  And it was fun working with them, and the audience seemed to enjoy it.

On directing Four Star Revue:

NBC wanted more comedy shows, and they developed this concept of having a weekly comedy show, but they knew that no one comedian could keep it up week after week.  So they decided they would get four different comedians and have them rotate.  And they got Jimmy Durante, Ed Wynn, Jack Carson, and Danny Thomas as the headliners for those various shows.  I started off doing The Jack Carson Show and The Danny Thomas Show.  And this was the first show that Danny Thomas had ever done on television, so we had several heart-to-heart talks and drinks in Hurley’s Pub, in the lower floor of NBC, and I learned a lot about him and he about me, I guess.  But he was a delightful man and a very, very serious person but a great comedian, too.

On directing Wide Wide World:

Well this was Pat Weaver’s idea of getting out of the studio and showing what’s happening around the world.  And it was a great idea.  We went to exciting places all over the country and did shows.  We’d show ski jumping in Minnesota and water ski jumping in Cypress Springs, Florida, and split the screen.  And in those days splitting a screen with two images was a miracle, because electronically it had never been done before.  But we did first things like the first broadcast from a ship to shore, the first broadcast of a parachutist carrying a camera, the first skier carrying a camera going down the ski slope.

On becoming Director of Programming at Vermont PBS:

I was hired as the director of programming.  And I was hired before the station was on the air.  I came to Vermont and developed the programs that we do in the studio, the people that we would use, and also made contacts with the national PBS offices.  And I learned how we could be a partner in the distribution of programs and receive grants, and the Ford Foundation was very helpful in funding a lot of this.  We began the state network, seven transmitters around the state.

On advice to aspiring directors:

Get a good background in television.  You know, it’s sort of departmentalized now.  They produce now sports people, you know, who specialize in baseball, or sports people in other sports.  And you know, you have to have a musical background if you’re going into covering the symphony orchestras.  For the dramatic work you must have a background in drama, and you should know acting and as much play writing as you can.  As much of the culture that you can get rubbed off on you.  There’s so many good schools now.  When I went to college they sort of ashamedly admitted they had an English drama department.  You know, they had deluded the worth of the English department by adding drama to it.  But now, you know, it’s prestigious to have a drama school, and it pays one to get the best education that you can get, of course.

Watch Garry Simpson’s full archive interview.

Read Simpson’s obituary here

Director James Burrows on Makin’ His Way in the World Today

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

Director James Burrows is practically synonymous with popular television comedies. Burrows got his start in television under the tutelage of Jay Sandrich on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, went on to direct episodes of The Bob Newhart Show, co-created Cheers with Les and Glen Charles (and directed almost all of the series’ episodes), directed episodes of Taxi, Friends, Frasier, and the entire series run of Will & Grace.

Burrows stated that one of the biggest laughs he’s ever seen on television occurred when he was directing Friends:

Watch James Burrows’ full interview here to hear his tales of Taxi, Cheers, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and other TV favorites.

About this interview:

In his three-and-a-half hour Archive interview, James Burrows discusses his early years working as a stage manger under his father, playwright/director Abe Burrows, and outlines his years directing for the stage in regional theater. He recalls his break into television directing, working at MTM Productions on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and describes directing Fay, The Bob Newhart Show, Laverne & Shirley, and Phyllis. He details working with the cast and creative team behind Taxi, and directing the majority of the series’ episodes. Burrows chronicles the eleven-year run of Cheers, which he co-created with Glen & Les Charles, and for which he directed nearly every episode.  As one of the pre-eminent directors of sitcom pilots, Burrows shares what he looks for in selecting a pilot and explains what drew him to directing the pilot episodes of Night Court, NewsRadio, and 3rd Rock From the Sun. He talks of working on the early seasons of Frasier, Friends, and Caroline in the City, and speaks of the joy of being the sole director of the hit series, Will & Grace. Gary Rutkowski conducted the interview on December 17, 2003 in Los Angeles, CA.

Director Robert Butler’s Archive Interview is Now Online!

Friday, August 3rd, 2007


Director Robert Butler was responsible for creating the look and feel for many classic television series in a career that spanned five decades. His full Archive of American Television interview is now available online, including detailed accounts of directing the first episodes of Batman, Moonlighting (pilot telefilm) and Hill Street Blues.

Click here to access Robert Butler’s entire five-hour interview.

Interview description:
Butler began by describing his early years breaking into the business as an usher at CBS. He described his experiences in various behind-the-scenes capacities on such classic “live” anthology series as Climax! and Playhouse 90. He described his first break in television directing on the comedy/drama series Hennesey. He detailed his many and varied assignments in series television in the 1960s on such series as The Detectives, Bonanza, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Dr. Kildare, Gunsmoke, The Defenders, The Fugitive, Hogan’s Heroes, The Twilight Zone, Batman, and Star Trek. Butler described his work in the 1970s on television movies (such as Columbo MOWs and James Dean) and feature films. He extensively described his groundbreaking work on the look of Hill Street Blues, for which he directed several of the initial episodes (including the pilot). He talked about his later work on such series as Remington Steele, Moonlighting (the telefilm pilot), Out on a Limb, Midnight Caller (which he also executive-produced), Sisters, and Lois & Clark. The interview was conducted by Stephen J. Abramson on January 14, 2004.