James Burrows Remembers How Mary Tyler Moore Helped Launch His Career

Courtesy of Photofest

"I'm totally indebted to Mary," the longtime director tells THR about his first TV job working on 'The Mary Tyler Moore Show.'

I wouldn’t have a TV career if it weren’t for Mary Tyler Moore.

I was an assistant on the 1966 Broadway musical Breakfast at Tiffany's. Mary was the leading lady and Dick Chamberlain was the leading man. They were both Californians and had never been on a New York stage before, so my job was to fetch them lunch and make sure they hit their cues. As an actress, she was a beautiful lady who could be funny, which is really hard to find.

Then, about seven years later, when I was doing dinner theater, I saw the Mary Tyler Moore show on TV, and I thought, "You know, they’re basically doing a play in front of a live audience," which is what I was doing. So I wrote her a letter and, in 1974, they brought me to Hollywood to direct an episode. It wasn’t a great script, but I worked diligently and, I'll never forget, just before we shot the episode, Mary came over to me and said, "We feel our investment in you has worked out." When she said that to me, I was through the roof. After that episode, I started to get a lot of TV work.

Taking a single woman and putting her at the center of a TV show was unheard of at that time. But the Mary Tyler Moore show became one of the seminal sitcoms ever to come to television. And it laid a lot of the groundwork in the area that I work in now. So I’m totally indebted to it. For me, it all started with that one show.