Although the director is clearly very important in film, he is often relatively unimportant in television. Indeed, many television shows have different directors nearly every week. As a result, television actors often report that they do a lot of self-direction. A few television directors even have been known to arrive on a set never having read the script. It's rare, but it happens, more often in comedy than in drama.
Given the television director's reduced creative role, it's easy to see why television, certainly series television, is considered a producer's medium. Television directors have little opportunity to put their stamp on an individual program. Indeed, they are encouraged not io put a stamp on a program; it ought not to stand out as different from the series work already established.
The director is expected to fit well within the machine of television production and to not change things, to adhere to the producer's overriding vision of the program. In John Ravage's 1978 book Television: The Director's Viewpoint, directors lament how little creativity they can exert within this system of production:
Directors find they must sacrifice a careful and insightful style in favor of satisfying the producer's wants…. Most directors have learned to cope by accepting the occupation for what it is, and they try to work within it. Many others sublimate their creativity into other considerations; they learn to “get involved” with the minimal human values present in the scripts on which they must work; they search for meanings not readily apparent in the original scripts; they attempt to create interest and vitality by an artful edit or a sly expression, tucked away where the producer's inquiring eye might miss it. (pp. 9–10)
But there are important exceptions to this general view of television directors. Many of the episodes of Soap, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and The Cosby Show were directed by Jay Sandrich—one of the reasons I wanted to interview him. Both Sandrich and the producers with whom he works prefer