Jay Sandrich was one of the few people who could lay claim to the Golden Age of Television. Not only did he work on the show that defined what the American sitcom would become, "I Love Lucy," his resume was packed ... Read more »
Jay Sandrich was one of the few people who could lay claim to the Golden Age of Television. Not only did he work on the show that defined what the American sitcom would become, "I Love Lucy," his resume was packed with decades of our culture's nightly laughs: he worked with everyone from Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore to Bill Cosby and Tony Randall. If you've ever laughed in front of a television, chances are strong that Jay Sandrich had something to do with it.
But Sandrich's career didn't start off that auspiciously. His first two directorial jobs saw him relegated to projects like an educational film for narcotics officers and the now-forgotten television anthology "Science Fiction Theatre" (Syndicated 1955-57). But it wouldn't be long before this son of seasoned Hollywood director Mark Sandrich got his first break after Lucille Ball remembered having worked with his father. By the time he was 25, the young Sandrich had served as assistant director on 14 episodes of the genre-defining "I Love Lucy" (CBS 1951-57). It was the perfect proving ground for a young assistant director, and also a trial by fire: the tempestuous relationship of Ball and husband Desi Arnaz was one of the most notorious aspects of the Desilu set. Sandrich's deftness at the live three-camera format secured him a place on that show's sequel "The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour" (CBS 1957-1960). He served as assistant director for 11 episodes between 1957 and 1959.
Around the same time, Sandrich began his long association as assistant director on "Make Room for Daddy" (ABC 1953-57, CBS 1957-1964). Series star Danny Thomas chose the Desilu studio's three-camera strategy for his new show, which proved wildly popular with American audiences. Between 1961 and 1965, Sandrich began to experiment with a new facet of his budding career, as associate producer of a spinoff from Thomas's sitcom, "The Andy Griffith Show" (CBS 1960-68). In 1961, he also served as assistant director on two episodes of another sitcom in its ascendency, "The Dick Van Dyke Show" (CBS 1961-66), which would permanently connect the director to the talents who solidified his career.
In 1965, Sandrich made another career leap, directing episodes of another Danny Thomas production, "The Bill Dana Show" (NBC 1963-65). Between 1965 and 1966, he was also a producer on 29 episodes of the sitcom that made mincemeat of the rising popularity of spy dramas, "Get Smart" (NBC 1965-69, CBS 1969-1970). Sandrich followed that by directing 11 episodes of the groundbreaking "The Bill Cosby Show" (NBC 1969-1971). The show was an integral part of the director's strengthening CV, but it was soon eclipsed by Sandrich's imminent and defining relationship with another budding television icon, Mary Tyler Moore.
Sandrich directed a total of 119 episodes of one the greatest television sitcoms of all time, "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" (CBS 1970-77). His direction became synonymous with the self-deprecating charm of Moore's main character Mary Richards as she felt her way through a world in flux. The show was such a critical and commercial success story that comics well into the following century (such as Tina Fey and Amy Poehler) cited it as an influence on their own work. The award-winning show also saw multiple spin-offs, which Sandrich had a hand in as well, including Valerie Harper's New York-centric sitcom "Rhoda" (CBS 1974-78), the Cloris Leachman vehicle "Phyllis" (CBS 1975-77) and the Ed Asner newsroom drama "Lou Grant" (CBS 1977-1982).
Overlapping his high demand work with Moore's own show and its spinoffs, Sandrich also became one of the go-to directors for the production company Moore ran with her then-husband Grant Tinker. MTM Productions, famed for its meowing kitten logo at the end of every show. Among the MTM shows Sandrich worked on were 10 episodes of the wryly understated "The Bob Newhart Show" (CBS 1972-78), and the pilot for the critically acclaimed cult favorite "WKRP in Cincinnati" (CBS 1978-1982). During this time, Sandrich still managed to find time to work on Garry Marshall's Tony Randall/Jack Klugman comedy smash "The Odd Couple" (ABC 1970-75) and a groundbreaking series of the era, "Soap" (ABC 1977 -1981), helming 51 episodes between 1977 and 1979. The satiric and occasionally controversial Susan Harris-created sitcom was a proving ground for young comedian Billy Crystal, whose naturalistic early television portrayal of a gay character Sandrich assumed some credit for.
Sandrich also found the time to direct Chevy Chase and Goldie Hawn in Neil Simon's film homage to Hollywood's 1940s screwball comedies, "Seems Like Old Times" (1980), which achieved some success. He also farmed himself out for small runs on high-profile shows like "Night Court" (NBC 1984-1992) before reuniting with colleague Bill Cosby in 1984 to direct the first three seasons of "The Cosby Show" (NBC 1984-1992). As a program that depicted an upper-middle-class African-American family, the show was as culturally defining for the 1980s as "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" had been for a generation of Americans coming to grips with the complexities of women entering the workplace.
Sandrich slipped into a series of smaller projects, seven episodes of a newsroom comedy that had real-life couple Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen acting out the workplace tensions of a couple on the skids, "Ink" (CBS 1996-1997). In 1997 Sandrich was called on to craft the pilot for Tony Danza's eponymous return to television, "The Tony Danza Show" (NBC 1997). The following year he directed another newsroom sitcom created by and starring one of the original "Saturday Night Live" (NBC 1975- ) writers, future US Senator Al Franken, "LateLine" (NBC 1998-1999), which was abruptly dropped by the network.
Sandrich also directed 11 episodes of "Style & Substance" (CBS 1998), Jean Smart's short-lived return to sitcoms as the Martha Stewart-like host of a home décor TV show, and two episodes of "Thanks" (CBS 1999), a quirky historical sitcom about a Puritan family that was cancelled after six episodes. In 2000, Sandrich worked with Smart once again, directing her in a live broadcast of her Tony-nominated performance in the Roundabout Theater Company's revival of "The Man Who Came to Dinner" (PBS 2000). In 2002, he filmed another stage performance, the Roundabout Theater Company's dishy stage version of a Clare Boothe Luce cinema classic "Stage on Screen: The Women" (PBS 2002), featuring Kristen Johnston, Rue McClanahan and Cynthia Nixon.