Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday! Last week, the world said goodbye to the prolific Jay Sandrich, one of the most preeminent TV directors of our time, and someone who deserves to be celebrated here, especially for his work on multi-camera sitcoms — a unique craft he learned at the source, as an assistant director on the formative I Love Lucy. During his time at Desilu (where he was appreciated because his father, Mark Sandrich, had worked at RKO), Sandrich struck up an association with Sheldon Leonard, who staffed him on Danny Thomas’ long-running series, on which he made his directorial debut in 1963. This blossomed into a few more gigs (like two AD credits on The Dick Van Dyke Show) and an Associate Producer stint on The Andy Griffith Show, which led to his producing the first season of Get Smart for Leonard Stern. However, Sandrich was always much more interested in directing, and Stern provided his biggest break to date — helming the multi-cam classic He & She, which only lasted a season (1967-’68), but brought him to the attention of writer Allan Burns, who would seek out Sandrich for his own co-created multi-cam a few years later: The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
It was as the resident director of MTM’s flagship series that Sandrich became the go-to guy for the major filmed multi-cams of the time, lending support to all of that company’s hits (Bob Newhart, Rhoda, Phyllis, etc.), along with classics from Garry Marshall (The Odd Couple and Laverne & Shirley), and Susan Harris’ Soap, on which he served for several years, later helping her launch The Golden Girls in early 1985. By then, Sandrich was in residency at The Cosby Show, having worked for Cosby on the star comic’s earlier ’60s sitcom, and he’d become a venerated legend in the industry — the mentor to the next wave of talent (like James Burrows), and a creative force who improved any show. His last credit was a 2003 episode of Two And A Half Men. (Other series on which he worked include: That Girl, The Ghost & Mrs. Muir, Here’s Lucy, The Governor And J.J., Arnie, The New Dick Van Dyke Show, Welcome Back Kotter, Lou Grant, WKRP In Cincinnati, Benson, It’s A Living, and Night Court, among many others.)
In celebration of his excellent work — not only in multi-cam staging, but in knowing how to bring out funny yet believable performances from all different kinds of actors, I want to share an episode of, you guessed it, my beloved He & She, which was a seminal stepping stone in Sandrich’s career — the reason he became the leading figure at MTM. I’ve presented this one before, but it was buried in a post that didn’t get much attention. It’s the 17th episode of the series, featuring the hilarious Oscar North (Jack Cassidy), who’s starring in a Jetman musical (a parody of It’s A Bird… It’s A Plane… It’s Superman, in which Cassidy had just appeared). Entitled “45 Midgets From Broadway,” this installment was written by Arnold Margolin & Jim Parker, directed by the late great Sandrich, and originally broadcast on January 03, 1968. Enjoy this testament to the outstandingly artful work of a multi-cam master.
Come back next week for a new Wildcard! And stay tuned Tuesday for Laverne & Shirley!