James Burrows was born in Los Angeles, the son of Abe Burrows, a well-known playwright and stage director. At a young age his father moved the family back to their native New York to continue his work on Broadway. As a child Burrows was simply known as “Abe’s kid” whenever meeting his father’s friends which included Truman Capote, John Steinbeck and Edward Albee, among others.
Entering the entertainment industry at a young age, Burrows attended New York’s High School of Music & Arts. Burrows attended 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 Breakfast at Tiffany’s, 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 stage directing job for 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. A lifelong television director and producer, Burrows may be best known, among his many accomplishments, as the co-creator of the long-running and critically acclaimed series Cheers. Burrows was also the co-creator of the Cheers spinoff The Tortellis in 1987 and has served as a director-executive producer on the series Will & Grace, The Class, Back to You, Gary Unmarried, Romantically Challenged, 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 over 100 series, among them; The Bob Newhart Show, Rhoda, The Betty White Show, Laverne & Shirley, Lou Grant, Taxi, The Tony Randall Show, The Associates, Cheers, The Stockard Channing Show, The Hogan Family, Night Court, Dear John, Ladies Man, Wings, Frasier, Friends, NewsRadio, 3rd Rock from the Sun, Pearl, Dharma & Greg, Caroline in the City, George & Leo, The Class, Courting Alex, Two and a Half Men, The Big Bang Theory, Hank, Up All Night, Better with You, $#*! My Dad Says, 2 Broke Girls, and Partners.
For his directing efforts Burrows has been nominated for 21 DGA Awards, winning four times for Cheers (1983 and 1990), Frasier (1993), and Will & Grace (2000). Burrows has also been nominated for an overwhelming 42 Primetime Emmy Awards, winning 10 for directing episodes of Taxi (1980 and 1981), Cheers (1983 and 1991), and Frasier (1994), and for producing Cheers (1983, 1984, 1989, and 1991) and Will & Grace (2000). An active member of the Directors Guild since 1974, Burrows has served as a trustee for the Directors Guild Foundation since 2001.