‘It’s Unfortunate, But Anybody With An iPhone Can Make A Show’ Complains James Burrows While Making the Same Show for the Third Time
Legendary TV producer and director James Burrows says that the sitcom is dying because the genre is overflowing with subpar shows. Maybe that’s why he hasn’t created a single new character in 40 years.
Burrows, who directed the first two episodes of the nervously anticipated Frasier reboot set to premiere on October 12th, has a predictably negative outlook on the industry in which he is a titan after nearly sixty years of sitcom work. After everything that he’s achieved in the medium, the 82-year-old Cheers creator is entitled to a few “Old Man Yells At Cloud” opinions — but, unfortunately, he didn’t go the Scorsese route of slandering the big-budget franchise studio slop, choosing instead to focus his gripes about the industry on the small-time creators who have benefited from the democratization of production tools as they break into the industry without relying on the traditional gatekeepers.
According to Burrows, the biggest threat facing comedy right now is insufficient talent compared to the wealth of opportunities available. “When I started out in the 70s, there were three networks and 30 great comedy writers, he recently told The Guardian. “Now we have 500 networks and 30 great comedy writers. The product is not going to be as good. It’s unfortunate, but anybody with an iPhone can make a show, and that’s what we’re dealing with now. I don’t know if sitcoms are ever going to be back, I really don’t.” With all his industry connections, it’s a shame Burrows couldn’t recruit one of those thirty to write his first new idea in decades.
“A lot of times, I start with a script that’s ordinary and make it good — and that’s not good enough,” Burrows said, reflecting on his lengthy filmography. “But to have a great script, then make it extraordinary, that’s fulfilling. I’ve had more than enough chances at that,” he continued, presumably implying that the Paramount+ reboot of Frasier absent so many of the actors and writers who made the show a hit in the first place will be among those extraordinarily fulfilling paychecks.
Burrows didn’t place all the blame for what he considers to be a sorry state of sitcom affairs on the creatives who, today, suffer somewhat less of the Hollywood politics and network ass-kissing to get projects made. “You have people who are running the business now who don’t really understand the business,” he said of the gatekeepers and producers of the TV world. “They just throw shit against the wall and see what sticks.”
Even on the topic of the Frasier reboot series that he’s helping to launch, Burrows couldn’t force optimism about the state of affairs. “I’m not sanguine about the product lasting,” he said ominously, though he admitted, “I’ve had a ball. It’s added years to my life — because of the laughter.”
Obviously, television itself has changed significantly since Burrows’ heyday — gone are the days of must-see, multi-camera, 30-episode-season sitcoms that dominated traditional broadcast television. Much of that has been to the detriment of comedy writers who can no longer rely on ad infinitum residuals to carry them through the dry seasons. But to say that the expansion of the talent pool to include to people who have long been shut out of the medium by profoundly non-meritocratic institutions is responsible for diluting the quality of the TV comedy is a bold claim coming from someone who’s helping to make yet another fucking show about white people in Boston drinking beer.