Legendary directors James Burrows and Robert Butler will receive the inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award for Distinguished Achievement in Television Direction from the Directors Guild of America in honor of each director’s groundbreaking career, DGA President Paris Barclay said today. The award will be presented at the 67th annual DGA Awards on February 7 at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Los Angeles. From today’s release:
“For those out there who’ve wondered what kind of impact a television director can have on the medium: Jim Burrows and Bob Butler provide the answers. That’s why we’re beyond thrilled to establish a new award, and to inaugurate it with two men who have had an incomparable influence over decades of precedent-setting television directing,” said Barclay. “They’ve shaped the history of television in ways too numerous to calculate, including directing the pilots for some of the most iconic television shows ever. Jim, who will soon helm his thousandth television episode, remains one of the most in-demand pilot directors in the business, having long since established his deft comedic touch on shows like Taxi, Cheers, Friends, Will & Grace, and The Big Bang Theory. Bob set the tone and broke the rules on pilots for Hogan’s Heroes, Star Trek, Batman, Hill Street Blues, and Moonlighting. Between the two of them, there are very few people in America who haven’t laughed, cried and/or cheered while watching their work. They have truly changed the face of television.”
This new award was created by the Board of Directors this year, and will join the Guild’s Lifetime Achievement Award for Distinguished Achievement in Motion Picture Direction in being the two highest honors bestowed by the DGA. In the Guild’s 78-year history, only 34 directors have been recognized with the Lifetime Achievement Award for Distinguished Achievement in Motion Picture Direction, including Cecil B. DeMille (the award’s first recipient in 1953), Frank Capra (1959), Alfred Hitchcock (1968), Stanley Kubrick (1997), Steven Spielberg (2000), and most recently, Milos Forman (2013). The winners of the Lifetime Achievement Award for Distinguished Achievement in Television Direction are nominated by a blue ribbon committee of prominent television directors and approved by the present and past presidents of the Guild.
“I am honored and touched to receive this inaugural DGA lifetime achievement award in television directing. I’m proud to accept this award in conjunction with Robert Butler, who I respect for his incredible work in television,” said Burrows. “To be lucky enough to work with great writers and actors is a blessing, but this is unbelievable.”
“Burrows-Butler is a great pair. To be DGA-recognized is truly meteoric,” added Butler.
With more than 40 years directing many of the most critically-acclaimed and audience-beloved sitcoms of all time, James Burrows is considered the modern master of the sophisticated comedy. Famous for turning sitcoms into high art, with a particular knack for working with actors, Burrows set the bar in comedy direction.
Burrows may be best known, among his many accomplishments, as the co-creator of the long-running and critically acclaimed series Cheers. Burrows has served as a director-executive producer on many series including Will & Grace (for which he directed every episode), The Class, Back to You, and Mike & Molly.
Known for his comic timing, adding a fourth camera to the classic multi-cam setup, and his mastery of pilots, Burrows has directed episodes of more than 100 series, among them; The Bob Newhart Show, Rhoda, Laverne & Shirley, Lou Grant, Taxi, The Tony Randall Show, The Associates, Cheers, The Hogan Family, Night Court, Dear John, Wings, Frasier, Friends, NewsRadio, 3rd Rock from the Sun, Dharma & Greg, Caroline in the City, The Class, Courting Alex, Two and a Half Men, The Big Bang Theory, 2 Broke Girls, and Partners. He has directed the pilots for more than 50 television series, many of which have gained iconic status and gone on to enjoy long and successful runs on television, including Taxi, Cheers, Frasier, Friends, Will & Grace, Two and a Half Men, and The Big Bang Theory.
Nominated 21 times for a DGA Award and 43 times for a Primetime Emmy (as a director and executive producer), Burrows won the DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Comedy Series four times: for Cheers (both 1983 and 1990); the pilot of Frasier (1993); and Will & Grace (2000) and the Primetime Emmy for directing five times.
Born in Los Angeles, Burrows, whose father Abe Burrows was a successful playwright and stage director, moved to his family’s native New York as a young child so that his father could continue his work on Broadway. Burrows attended New York’s High School of Music & Arts and Oberlin College and was then accepted to the Yale University School of Drama’s graduate program.
Upon graduating, Burrows moved back to Los Angeles in 1965 after being offered the position of dialogue coach for actor Burl Ives on the television series O.K. Crackerby! After the series ended its run, Burrows moved to New York to work first as a show technician and then as stage manager for a Broadway rendition of Holly Golightly, written and directed by his father and Edward Albee. As a stage manager, Burrows experienced his first taste of directing, as one of his duties was to direct the plays’ understudies. This segued into his first off-Broadway stage directing job for The Castro Complex, followed by directing the traveling play 40 Carats which led to directing productions of Norman, Is That You?, Mr. Roberts, and The Odd Couple, among others. Burrows’ success in the theatre led to an offer to direct an episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show in 1974, and he has been working steadily and successfully in television ever since.
Burrows joined the DGA in 1974. He has served as a trustee of the Directors Guild Foundation since 2001.
Few directors have altered the trajectory of one-hour drama series as much as Robert Butler. From devising the look and feel of pivotal programs for decades to influencing and mentoring many of today’s top directors, Butler’s overall impact is immeasurable.
With three episodes of Hennessey in 1960, Butler began a nearly 50-year directing career. He directed many of the most popular shows such as Twilight Zone, The Defenders, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Gunsmoke, The Untouchables, I Spy and The Fugitive, as well as the pilots for such seminal television series as Hogan’s Heroes, his first, shot in black and white, the initial Star Trek, Batman, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Remington Steele, which he created, Hill Street Blues and Moonlighting among others.
Butler won the DGA’s Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in a Dramatic Series in 1973 for The Waltons and again in 1984 for the Hill Street Blues pilot, which was credited with setting a new face and style for all police procedurals. His specials and long-form shows include The Blue Knight, likely the first four-hour television mini-series ever aired, for which he won multiple Emmys and was nominated for a DGA Award, Dark Victory, and HBO’s White Mile, the river rafting courtroom drama.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Butler was initially a musician at NBC on the Hoagy Carmichael Teenagers band. Interrupting his years at UCLA, he enlisted in the Army Ground Forces Band, graduating later and taking a job in the early 1950s as an usher at CBS just as live television was developing. Over the next seven years, Butler became a stage manager and associate director on many CBS shows including Climax! and Playhouse 90 and worked with directors Franklin Schaffner, John Frankenheimer and Arthur Penn, an experience he considers priceless to his own development and career.
Butler joined the DGA in 1959. He served 11 consecutive terms on the DGA National Board starting in 1985, including two terms as Fifth Vice President. He also served on the Western Directors Council from 1974-2005 and on the Directors Guild Foundation since 1988, a position he continues to hold today. Butler also served repeatedly on the Negotiations Committee and was a member of the Residuals Study Committee.
In 2001, the DGA honored Butler with the Robert B. Aldrich Achievement Award in recognition of his decades of service to the Guild and its membership.