Tulsa Tribune
October 11, 1990

Directors Key to TV Continuity

By Jeremy Gerard
NY Times Service

NEW YORK - For Joel Zwick, the change was something like trading in a Maserati for a 10-year-old station wagon.  Sure, it starts up every morning and is loaded with personality, but sometimes it leaves an oil spot on the driveway.

After five years as the director of ABC's "Perfect Strangers," Zwick switched this season to "Full House," another popular ABC comedy.

As the sole director of "Full House," which has just begun its fourth season, Zwick is one of perhaps half a dozen directors with a continuing assignment on a single series.

That exclusivity is a crucial factor, he says, in getting his diverse company from first run-through to taping every week.  It also helps that he directed the pilot of the show, and knows the actors and writers.

"Perfect Strangers" was the single most professionally run show I've ever been involved with," Zwick says.  "On 'Full House,' we have dogs, two 4-year-old twins, an 8-year-old girl, a 13-year-old girl, two stand-up comics who have other shows and one actor.  Directing it is more like real life than a television show.  We have to stop taping because the baby has to go poop.

"It's an organizational feat to do 'Full House,'" he said.

Zwick, a veteran of 13 seasons as a sitcom director, was determined to make his new show run as well as the old.  His situation was complicated by the fact that two of the principle actors on "Full House," Bob Saget and David Coulier, serve double duty as hosts of other ABC shows, Saget on "America's Funniest Home Videos" and Coulier on that show's spinoff, "America's Funniest People."

"Television is principally a producer's medium," says Zwick, who is unrelated to Edward Zwick, one of the creator of "thirtysomething."

"The writer is the producer and the writer has the power and the vision to accomplish things.  Only a handful of directors are involved at the creation of a show, on the pilot, and wind up in strong enough a position to have their creative input mean something.  Usually, producers want directors they can push around: they have to behave or they'll get kicked off the show."

But the producers of several top-rated and critically acclaimed series said they preferred a continuing relationship with one director over the round-robin that is characteristic of most shows.  They said that having a single director for a series would be standard if there were enough first-rate directors.

Diane English, the creator and an executive producer of CBS' "Murphy Brown," said that show's director, Barnet Kellman, had been instrumental in the show's consistency, one result of which was an Emmy Award last month as television's outstanding comedy series.  Having one skilled director from the beginning, she said, serves both the writing staff and the acting ensemble.

She recalled a scene last season with Corky, the former beauty queen turned reporter, and Eldin, the iconoclastic house painter, at FYI, the fictitious news magazine that serves as the show's focus.

"It was the two-part show where Corky gets married," English said.  "Eldin brings Corky to the bullpen, everybody thinks they've spent the night together and they haven't.  Corky decides then to get married and has to break the news to Eldin, who just walked over to the elevator and left.  It was such a sad moment, and we didn't know how to fix it."

Kellman did.

"Just before we had to tape, Barnet saw an attractive extra crossing the set and he said, 'What if she gets in the elevator with him?' and she does, and Eldin just smiles as the elevator doors close," English said.  "It saved the whole run for us."