Jay Sandrich, a prolific sitcom director who won Emmy Awards for the two series he has worked on most often, “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “The Cosby Show”, died Wednesday at his Los Angeles home. . He was 89 years old.
The cause was dementia, said his wife, Linda Sandrich.
Mr. Sandrich didn’t consider himself funny, but he knew how to guide a cast of comedy actors through half-hour episodes. He understood the mechanics of directing (moving the cameras, not the actors) and knew how to make the scenes work.
âSitcom directors have a reputation for being traffic cops because it’s a medium for writers,â said James Burrows, whose directorial credits include âCheers,â âFrasier,â and âWill & Grace, “and who saw Mr. Sandrich as a mentor, said over the phone. “But Jay taught me to talk and say what I mean so that you contribute to the show, not just rehearse what everyone else wants.”
In 1970, Mr. Sandrich was a sitcom veteran, but he didn’t believe he had done “anything big”; her credits at that time included “He & She”, “That Girl”, “The Ghost & Mrs. Muir” and, perhaps most notably, “Get Smart”. Then, after another director dropped out, he was asked to direct the pilot episode of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”.
When the actors gathered for an essay in front of an audience, nothing worked.
âIt was a disaster,â he told the Television Academy in an interview in 2001. âI don’t think we had six laughs.â
Afterward, he told the cast to trust the material and keep rehearsing. By the time the episode was taped, the performances had refined and the laughs had been found.
Referring to a moment in the scene where Mary Richards, played by Mrs. Moore, interviews for a TV news post with Lou Grant, played by Ed Asner (who died last month), he said: “Ed, I remember , when he said, “You got sperm – I hate sperm,” he made it so hard “the audience gasped. âHe had found the perfect level.
Over the next seven years, Mr. Sandrich directed 118 additional episodes of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” including the series finale, and won two Emmy Awards for his work on the series. He has also directed other series under the banner of Ms. Moore’s company, MTM Enterprises, including “Rhoda”, “The Bob Newhart Show”, “Phyllis” and “Lou Grant”.
In the late 1970s, he directed 53 episodes of “Soap,” the parody of Susan Harris’ soap operas. In 1980 he directed the movie “Seems Like the Good Old Days” written by Neil Simon and starring Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase. It was a hit, totaling $ 44 million – roughly $ 139 million in today’s dollars – but he never directed another feature film.
Jay Henry Sandrich was born February 24, 1932 in Los Angeles. His father, Mark, was a director whose films included the musical “Top Hat” by Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers. Her mother, Freda (Wirtschalter) Sandrich, was a housewife.
As a child, Jay first saw snow on the set of “Holiday Inn” (1942), with Astaire and Bing Crosby, which his father was directing. It was an exciting sight, even though the snow was plastic.
After graduating in 1953 from UCLA, where he studied theater arts and film, he joined the military and shot training films for the Signal Corps.
After his release, he wrote to W. Argyle Nelson, head of production at Desilu Productions – the production company of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz – and he was hired as a second assistant director, working on “I Love Lucy. âOur Miss Brooksâ and âBride of December.â He later found out that he had gotten the job because Mr. Nelson had been his father’s assistant on a film years earlier.
Mr. Sandrich was assistant director on “The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour”, the successor to “I Love Lucy”, from 1957 to 1959.
He held similar positions in “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and in “Make Room for Daddy”, starring Danny Thomas, where he began his career as a director.
“I remember waking up in the middle of the night,” fearful before directing his first episodes of “Daddy,” he told Television Academy. “I was so scared. No one was going to listen to me.
People listened to him for the next 40 years.
In the 1980s, he directed 100 episodes of “The Cosby Show”, for which he won two Emmy Awards. In 1985, he piloted “The Golden Girls”, and he was instrumental in the casting of Betty White as Rose, the naive character, and Rue McClanahan as Libidinous White, at the opposite of what was originally planned – in part because Ms. White had previously played a similar role, Sue Ann Nivens, on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”.
âJay Sandrich, in his genius, said that if Betty plays another starving man, they’ll think it’s Sue Ann revisited. So let’s do her Rose, âMs. White said at a 2006â Golden Girls âreunion in Los Angeles hosted by the Paley Center. She added, motioning to Ms McClanahan, “They have a real neighborhood nymphomaniac to play Blanche.”
Mr. Sandrich continued to work until the 21st century. His last assignment was an episode of “Two and a Half Men” in 2003.
He married Linda Silverstein in 1984. In addition to her, he is survived by his daughter, Wendy Steiner; his sons, Eric and Tony; and four grandchildren. His marriage to Nina Kramer ended in divorce.
Mr. Sandrich’s association with “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” ended when the series itself did so, in 1977. He later recalled that when the cast rehearsed the last episode, the Emotional Line of Mr. Asner, “I darling you,” caused Mr. Asner’s eyes to cry.
And when Ms Moore explained how much her colleagues meant to her, Mr Sandrich said: âMy only instruction for her was not to cry as long as possible. “
“If you see the show,” he added, “you see the tears come up and I started to cry and the audience started to cry.”