Family & Companions
A prolific writer of sitcoms who has been partnered at various times with other icons of the genre (i.e., Chris Hayward, James L Brooks) Allan Burns is most often heralded as the co-creator of the groundbreaking classic "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" (CBS, 1970-77). But he was also the driving force behind such other sitcoms as "My Mother the Car" (NBC, 1965-66) and "FM" (NBC, 1989-90) in addition to making occasional forays into features.
Burns began his Hollywood career working as an analyst in the NBC story department, a prolific breeding ground for show business talent. He then segued to animation king Jay Ward Productions, working as a writer from 1959-62 on such cartoons as "Bullwinkle." Burns was partnered in the 60s with Chris Hayward and the duo wrote a concept which became "The Munsters" (CBS, 1964-66), a show that turned characters inspired by Dracula, Frankenstein's monster and his bride into a suburban family. Burns and Hayward were displeased with the execution of the series, but lacked the industry clout for their feelings to receive and airing. Yet, the show's success established them in sitcoms. In 1965, the pair created "My Mother the Car" for NBC, a sitcom which offered Jerry Van Dyke as a suburban husband and father whose deceased mother communicated with him through the radio of his 1928 Porter. Consistently the butt of jokes until this day, it was not a harbinger of the levels to which Burns would rise. His abilities were better served by another show he created with Hayward, "He & She" (CBS, 1966-67) , which co-starred Richard Benjamin and his wife Paula Prentiss as a cartoonist and his spouse. While the show only lasted one season, it is fondly recalled as being ahead of its time and earned Burns and Hayward an Emmy.
Now on the front ranks, Burns went on to write and serve as story editor on "Get Smart" (NBC, 1968-69). Splitting with Hayward, Burns entered into partnership with James L Brooks. Their first effort was the ABC show "Room 222" on which they served as creators, producers and writers during its premiere season (1969-70). A Mix of comedy and drama, "Room 222," a half-hour show set in an urban high school, was the first such series to deal with the topical issues of the day (premiering before "All in the Family"). Based on their work, Burns and Brooks were lured to the newly formed MTM Enterprises, where, in 1970, they created and were executive producers of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" (CBS), which broke ground by depicting a single woman with a career who was not in panic about not being married. Burns and Brooks stayed with the series through its seven-year run, amassing three Emmys as producers of the Outstanding Comedy Series (1974/75, 1975/76, 1976/77) and shared in another Emmy for scripting the series' final episode. While at MTM, Burns and Brooks co-created the spin-off series "Rhoda" (CBS, 1974-78), starring Valerie Harper as Rhoda Morgenstern, window dresser and girl from The Bronx trying to make good and "Friends and Lovers" (CBS, 1974-75), which featured Paul Sands as a Boston-based bass violinist. In 1977, while Brooks migrated to Paramount, Burns remained with MTM creating and executive producing "Lou Grant" (CBS, 1977-82), a one-hour drama spin-off which transplanted the character from "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" from Minneapolis to Los Angeles and from a TV station to a newspaper.
During the early 80s, Burns took some time off from TV before returning with less success than in the 70s. He created and produced "The Duck Factory" (NBC, 1984), which may be best recalled by trivia buffs as Jim Carrey's first TV series. Carrey was cast as a cartoonist in a small animation house that played on Burns' recollections of his years with Jay Ward. "Eisenhower & Lutz" (CBS, 1988) was a short-lived sitcom featuring Scott Bacula as an attorney in Palm Springs. In 1989, Burns teamed with Dan Wilcox to create "FM," an NBC comedy set at a radio station that eked out a season run. "Cutters" (CBS, 1993) was Burns' attempt to find comedy in a barber shop.
Burns tried his hands at feature writing with "A Little Romance" (1979). A smart little film about a wise-beyond-her years American teenager (Diane Lane) who goes to Paris and runs off with a French boy, it earned Burns an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. That same year, he scripted "Butch and Sundance: The Early Days," which was marketed as a "prequel" to "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" (1969). While it introduced the term "prequel," the film was a critical and box-office disappointment. Burns wrote and make his directorial debut with "Just Between Friends" (1986), which starred Mary Tyler Moore as a woman who unknowingly befriends her husband's mistress (Christine Lahti), then sticks by her after his death while she bears his child. It, too, failed to win over critics and audiences.
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Special Thanks (Special)
With Chris Hayward, created original concept for "The Munsters" (CBS)
Co-created the NBC sitcom "My Mother the Car" with Hayward
Created the spin-off sitcom "Rhoda" (CBS)
Created and wrote scripts for "Friends and Lovers", a CBS sitcom starring Paul Sand
Earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay for "A Little Romance"
Created the short-lived NBC sitcom "The Duck Factory", starring Jim Carrey
Feature directorial debut "Just Between Friends", starring Mary Tyler Moore; also produced and scripted
Created the CBS sitcom "Eisenhower & Lutz"; also executive produced and directed premiere
With Dan Wilcox, co-created the NBC sitcom "FM"; also executive produced and scripted
Created the CBS sitcom "Cutters"