Veteran multi-camera comedy director Pam Fryman has hit a milestone: She is currently directing her 500th episode of television. This is one of the highest career tallies behind sitcom doyen James Burrows, who last fall crossed the 1,000-episode mark. Fryman’s No. 500 is an episode of CBS’ sitcom The Odd Couple starring Matthew Perry and Thomas Lennon, which is in rehearsals to film on Monday.
Early on, Fryman was on a very different career path. “I studied fashion merchandising. My dad was in the fashion industry, and I was going to follow in his footsteps, but guess what? I got so lucky to get to do what I love,” Fryman says. While in school, she interned on the syndicated Mike Douglas Show in her native Philadelphia. After she graduated, she visited Los Angeles where she met with some of the people she’d worked for on the talk show who had moved to LA. They offered her a job, and she stayed.
After starting off as a PA, Fryman got her DGA card as an AD on the 1984-85 game show Every Second Counts. On it, she met the show’s head writer/producer Peter Noah, who was working on game shows and sitcoms.
“He always said to me, ‘You’d be good in comedy,'” Fryman recalls. “I have no idea what he saw in me.”
But that’s not what Fryman did. Her first directing gig was on the daytime drama Santa Barbara, followed by more soaps. “I ended up going to daytime (from game shows), mainly because I loved actors. And let’s not forget daytime dramas were a good business, so it was a steady gig.”
As she was working on soaps, in 1994 she got a call from Noah, who was an executive producer on a multi-camera comedy series called Cafe Americain. He asked her to come and direct an episode.
Fryman tried to get out of it, but Noah persuaded her to come over and observe a director on the set. His name: James Burrows. “He was wildly gracious with his time,” Fryman remembers of her shadowing the sitcom maestro. The advice he gave her that stuck with her: “He told me to widen my shots and wear comfortable shoes.” (Daytime soaps are heavy on close-ups.)
With Cafe Americain, Fryman entered the sitcom world and never left. (Ironically, Noah subsequently switched to drama, working on such series as The West Wing and more recently Scandal and Tyrant.)
A large chunk of Fryman’s 500 episodes to date, 196, were on CBS’ hybrid comedy How I Met Your Mother, where she directed the pilot and stayed for the entire nine-season run as executive producer/director. “It was pure joy, it was great to go to work every day, it was creative and outside of the box, it was a spectacular experience,” Fryman says. As for the hybrid format of HIMYM, which has been emulated frequently, “it was born out of necessity,” Fryman said. “There was no way, the way it was written, to be shot in front of a live audience. There were so many scenes, and so much of the comedy came out of the edit.” Other shows Fryman highlights as great experiences include Frasier, for which she directed 34 episodes, and Just Shoot Me (89). She also touted Netflix’s upcoming One Day at a Time reboot, which she just wrapped before segueing to The Odd Couple.
Fryman has been extremely successful in a field traditionally dominated by men, with female directors often facing obstacles. “Not to say this is not a problem, but the fact is that just was never an issue for me,” Fryman says.
After hundreds of episodes of multi-camera TV comedy, will she stay the course or try something else — single-camera comedy or drama? “I don’t know,” Fryman says, adding quickly, “I love multi-cam, that’s where I started. I love a live audience, there is nothing like it.”