Jay Sandrich, Emmy-Winning Director of ‘The Cosby Show’ and ‘Mary Tyler Moore Show,’ Dies at 89

Jay Sandrich

Jay Sandrich, the prolific Emmy-winning TV director who was an instrumental player in such series as “The Cosby Show” and  “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” died Sept. 22 in Los Angeles, CAA confirmed. He was 89.

Sandrich was beloved in the creative community and was considered a mentor to a generation of TV directors, notably James Burrows. Sandrich had a major influence on TV comedy as the director of pilots for “Soap,” “WKRP in Cincinnati,” “The Golden Girls,” “The Bob Newhart Show,” “Empty Nest,” “Night Court” and “A Different World,” among other shows.  His career began on the set of “I Love Lucy” and stretched through “Two and a Half a Men.” He worked mostly in TV but his feature credits included the 1980 Chevy Chase-Goldie Hawn comedy “Seems Like Old Times.”

His father, Mark Sandrich, was a famed movie director of musicals such as “Holiday Inn” and “Top Hat” and a former president of the Directors Guild of America.

Jay Sandrich earned five Emmys for directing throughout his career, including two for “The Cosby Show” in 1985 and 1986, plus two for “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” in 1971 and 1973. He won a Daytime Emmy for “Insight,” a weekly anthology series about religion, in 1984. In 2020, Sandrich was inducted into the Television Academy’s Hall of Fame in 2020.

“Jay Sandrich was the godfather of sitcoms – making his mark on all of his series and eliciting some of the best comedic performances in TV history,” DGA president Lesli Linka Glatter said. “An enormous and generous mentor to so many who themselves went on to achieve greatness, Jay was always willing to help budding directors and blazed the trail far and wide for everyone to follow. As the son of past DGA president Mark Sandrich, fighting for the rights of members was in Jay’s blood, and he always battled to ensure the director’s vision was protected.”

Sandrich won three Directors Guild of America awards, for “The Cosby Show,” “The Golden Girls” and “The Lily Tomlin Special.” In addition to his wins, he earned six other Emmy nominations and six nods from the DGA. Sandrich’s long list of credits include the most acclaimed and popular comedies of the past half-century: “The Odd Couple,” “That Girl,” “He & She,” “Benson,” “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir,” “Nanny and the Professor,” “Welcome Back, Kotter,” “Laverne & Shirley,” “It’s a Living,” “Love, Sidney,” “The Cosby Show,” “Thea,” “Ink,” “Pearl” and “Carol & Co.”

Ron Howard, director and co-head of Imagine Entertainment, worked with Sandrich when Howard was a child actor on “Andy Griffith.” “Talent, taste, hard work and a great team spirit defined his stellar reputation,” Howard wrote on Twitter.

Born in Los Angeles in 1932, Sandrich attended Beverly Hills High School and UCLA. He served in the Army and began his career as a second assistant director on “I Love Lucy.” He quickly became an in-demand helmer working on such hits as “The Andy Griffith Show,” “The Danny Thomas Show” and “Get Smart.”

In a 2001 interview with the Archive of American Television, Sandrich said he learned a key truism about directing from actor Richard Benjamin, star of “He and She,” namely that directors need to understand the script to be effective. “Emotion,” Sandrich told the archive, “is a very strong word in my vocabulary as a director.”

He is survived by his wife, Linda, and three children from a previous marriage, Eric, Tony and Wendy, and four grandchildren.

The family requests that donations be made in Sandrich’s name to Planned Parenthood, the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank or the Cradle to Career Aspen Community Foundation.

Here is Jay Sandrich’s interview with the Archive of American Television