By Andres J Osorio, contributing writer
Sunday night on NBC was no grand Friends reunion event, though that was basically how the Internet and even NBC’s own trailers for the event depicted the tribute to veteran television director James Burrows. If you’ve never heard of Jimmy Burrows, don’t worry; you’re in the majority. The fact that a network devoted two hours to honor a television director who the general public would not recognize is admirable and should tell you something about his significance.
As befits an honoring of a director of comedy, the special tribute was loaded with humorous bits (such as Eric McCormack and Rhea Perlman in the bath together). But Burrows isn’t just any television director, he is the sitcom director, the most successful television director of all time, with forty years of experience under his belt. The tribute commemorates the 1000th episode of television directed by Burrows, for the new NBC sitcom Crowded. The tribute was comprised of spotlights on just seven of his sitcoms: Will & Grace, Cheers, The Big Bang Theory, Taxi, Mike & Molly, Frasier, and Friends. Incredibly, the casts of all of these series were in attendance to discuss their shows and their experiences with Burrows; there were some absences, including Debra Messing, Kelsey Grammer, and, most notably, Matthew Perry.
For a special tribute to one man, the questions could have been more centered on the man being honored. Such questions were especially absent in the first spotlight on Will & Grace, where Andy Cohen primarily asked questions about the actors’ favorite moments with one another, to which at least the actors tried steering in Jimmy’s direction. Cohen put a lot of emphasis on how significant the show is in its advocacy of the gay community; and yet, he missed an easy segue to bring it back to the man of the hour with the fact that W&G was the first show that Jimmy Burrows claimed the right of being an executive producer of. That again: the most successful sitcom director of all time didn’t ask to be the executive producer of Cheers or Friends or Frasier, but a show consisting of two gay men in the main cast. This wasn’t mentioned by Cohen, but is included in the book Top of The Rock by former NBC President of Entertainment Warren Littlefield.
Excluded from the tribute were any of Jimmy’s non-acting collaborators. There wasn’t even a video of collected thanks from any writers, executives, or crew members who surely would have loved to been a part of this thanks-giving ceremony for Burrows. Jimmy, on the other hand, did gracefully include them in his thank you speech. Still, this significant exclusion is part of the main problem with this “tribute” – it was too concentrated on the actors, and Friends, rather than the man being celebrated.
Hopefully those people who watched the tribute solely to see 5 of the 6 Friends together again took away from watching it the significant role that Burrows had in making it such a cultural phenomenon. Jennifer Aniston thanked Jimmy for giving them “the best ten years of their acting careers” and Matt Leblanc said about Burrows, “It’s the seed he gives you. He doesn’t say a lot. He gives you credit for being an artist.”
Burrows’ described the tribute as a trip down memory lane, and closed with a quote by George Strait, one that speaks to the life of a beloved sitcom as much as it does the life of a beloved director or any human being – “I’m not here for a long time, I’m here for a good time.”