Comedy directorJohn Rich

A television director and producer, Rich cut his teeth on such classic shows as The Twilight Zone, I Married Joan, Our Miss Brooks, Gunsmoke, and Bonanza. But it was in comedy where his talents really stood out: he won his first Emmy Award in 1963 with The Dick Van Dyke Show (Van Dyke called Rich “the best comedy director I ever met”), and Rich became the director of choice for sitcom pilots: he directed the pilots of Gilligan’s Island, The Brady Bunch, Maude, Good Times, The Jeffersons, Barney Miller, and Newhart. In 1970, Rich got two calls in one day asking for his talents on sitcom pilots — from Norman Lear, and from Mary Tyler Moore, who wanted him for the series named for her. Lear’s script was crazy, Rich said, with shocking, “unusually explicit language” that, he was sure, would never “see the network light of day.” So he chose that one, and All in the Family was born. Rich helped it become a hit. One story he liked to tell was when Sammy Davis Jr. appeared on the show, playing himself (he had left his briefcase in Archie Bunker’s cab). After getting the briefcase, he asked for a photo with Archie. Just as the camera snapped, at Rich’s suggestion, the black Davis kissed bigot Archie on the cheek. That “earned us the biggest, longest laugh I have ever experienced,” Rich wrote in his 2006 memoir. He died January 29 at his home, at 86.

From This is True for 29 January 2012