Why do TV series seem to have a different director for each episode?

Notice this on Sneaky Pete, Ray Donovan and series after series: it seems on almost every episode there’s a different director. Ive even seen where the lead actor is credited as the director for one episode.

Why don’t the producers of a TV series just lock down a director they like to direct the entire season? Is there that much demand for directors they cant do that? Or is there some weird creative desire to “mix it up” during a season? Allowing the lead actor to direct is a chit, right?

Directors need to do lots of prep work understanding the script, getting actors cast in guest star or supporting roles, and figuring out how they want to shoot the episode. No way in hell they can do that while being on set five days for the shoot just before it. Plus, they have to supervise post production work like editing.

As for lead actors directing, they know the story, everyone trusts them, and they have the clout to get the producers to let them do it. Actors wanting to direct are so common as to be practically a cliche.

Depends on the show and the producers.

Directors are basically free-lance professionals. They normally come in a week or so before a show films to orient themselves and move on to their next job when filming is done. A lot of producers like this, because it brings an element of variety to their shows while remaining within their formats.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. F’rinstance, a director might not grasp the concept of the show, be able to keep up with the shooting schedule, or get along with the cast. When this happens, he (or she) is usually not invited back.

When things go well, a director can be invited back multiple times. Many episodes of the original ***Star Trek ***for example were directed by two men, Marc Daniels and Joe Pevney. They definitely left their mark on the series.

In some cases, this becomes what is essentially a permanent assignment. F’rinstance, all of the episodes of Barney Miller I’ve seen were directed by Noam Pitlik.

Once producers find a director they like working with, they can come back again and again. Some producers like to direct episodes of their series themselves, like Larry David did with Seinfeld.

On a long-running series, some of the actors with directoral aspirations are allowed to helm an episode; often, they’re encouraged to. Mike Farrell, for example, got his big break while MASH*** was being filmed. So did Jonathan Frakes of ST: TNG. Sometimes these people give up acting altogether and become full-time directors instead, like Jerry Paris (from The Untouchables and The Dick van Dyke Show). The abovementioned Noam Pitlik went from acting to directing as well.

So, who directs a show and how many times he (or she) does it depends on a number of factors.

As **Voyager **indicates, a director can be heavily involved in everything from pre- to post-production, depending on his (or her) availability and level of commitment, but it’s my impression this happens more often in filming motion pictures than it does with TV series, simply because the latter have much tighter production schedules.

Paramount basically had an informal “director’s school” set up largely for Star Trek actors who wanted to try directing. Many of them did, and Frakes even did some features (including Star Trek: First Contact and Star Trek: Insurrection.) Robert Duncan McNeil from Voyager has also had a respectable career as a TV director.

It would not be practical to use the same director on every episode of most shows because modern TV production requires a great deal of pre-production work before shooting ever starts, in some cases the director may need to come on board three or four weeks ahead of time. That means you have to have several episodes in the pipeline simultaneously.

This is one reason why the Daniels/Pevney system worked so well on ST: TOS. Throughout the second season, they alternated episodes, allowing a lot of continuity in production.

Actress Lucy Liu directed a few times on her show Elementary, then recently branched out during her hiatus to do an episode of the latest season of Luke Cage.

You’ll notice that in the episode before, they will appear in it very little as they are busy in prep. They will sometimes oversee post-production too, but usually not, as they have even less expertise in that area and it is quite safe in the experienced hands of the editors themselves, who have to work very fast, and the actor needs to ramp back up to full time attention again.

For a half-hour show set in minimal locations, you can get away with one person doing most of the work. The Big Bang Theory credits Mark Cendrowski with 223 episodes, all but 33 of the total. It’s also shot mostly on a couple of apartment sets and runs about 20 minutes an episode.

Modern Family, with more sets, more outdoor shooting, more actors and so on, is spread among seven different directors fairly evenly.

You see a lot of the same directors rotate in and out of shows. Michael Lembeck (Captain Kool) directed many episodes of Friends, and Robby Benson (yes, THAT Robby Benson) directed a handful of them. Another person who did quite a few was Peter Bonerz, or Dr. Jerry Robinson, DDS from The Bob Newhart Show. I guess that’s what gave the show such an appeal to Gen-X. They were directed by people who shaped the TV we remembered from childhood. FWIW, David Schwimmer directed several episodes, but I don’t recall any other cast members being credited with directing.

Some shows take one approach to directing, and some another. Some use entirely free-lancers, and some almost entirely rotate contract directors. It really depends on the producer, and sometimes the way the show is done. A show that has something peculiar about it, like a show with puppets, and a lot of unusual floor riggings, or an unusual number of young children, my need to stick to a handful of directors familiar with the set and cast, while thematically complicated shows, like Star Trek, may need directors to spend more than the average amount of prep time, and hour-long shows require more prep than half-hour shows. Also, shows with continuity issues may like to stick to in-house directors, while shows where each episode is self-contained may prefer to use free-lance directors. Back when there were anthology shows, directing style didn’t have to be as consistent. But with a show like, for example, The Good Wife, you need more consistency, and over half the episodes were directed by about six people.

In TV shows the role of director is not the same as in the movies. In TV shows the person making every choice, from the lightning to the scripts is the Show Runner, usually billed as the main Executive Producer. Not necessarily the person billed as “creator”.

The directors in TV shows are just there to tell the camera operators to point at the actors, and that’s about it.

Some Show Runners are fairly hand-off in their approach, and will happily allow for writers to use game-changing plot twists, only for the next writers to go into their own tangents. Maybe the most hilarious example I’ve ever had the pleasure of enjoying is J. J. Abram’s Alias… by the last few seasons, characters turned hero or villain to hero again from one episode to the next and incredibly relevant plot points were dropped without ever being referenced again. It was glorious.

Watching British dramas I find that the more the show creator is involved in writing and/or directing every episode, the better the quality. Of course you’re talking about 6-8 episodes per “series” many times.

With American TV, in addition to possibly having 22-23 episodes per season, the shooting schedule is tighter. One episode per week is common, doing 6+ episodes in a batch.


So they have to farm things out to more people and the quality is affected.

So if it’s that much work to direct each episode of a show, how did J. Michael Strazynski do it for Babylon 5?

He didn’t. He wrote a huge chunk of the scripts but his only directing credit is for the finale.

As I understand it, another factor is that a lot of directors have a clause where they can bail out of their contracts if they get a movie deal (seeing as how a movie commitment can last for months.) That means that some directors don’t want to be tied down to a TV series and/or when a director takes a movie job, the TV producer has to find replacements on relatively short notice.

I think this is a gross oversimplification. A director has to interpret the script and can either make or break a show. In any script, there are nebulous areas that need to be filled in: How many extras are in the background? What are they doing? How are they moving? Is there anything in the background that would distract from the main action? How should the main cast be positioned? How many closeups are needed? How tight should they be? What should the angles be? How should the actors emote? How many takes are needed before the actor gets the inflection just right? And so on and so on. Each scene has to be visualized, and everyone on the set must be tuned in to what the director wants.

During filming, the director is in command. A good director can make even a bad script look good (or at least better). A bad director can ruin a good script. Editors can adjust things in post-production to give the showrunner(s) what they want, but the director supplies the raw material. If the footage is crap, it makes their job much more difficult.

The better the continuity, certainly. I don’t know if this necessarily translates into better quality.

Of course, if we’re talking about good, successful shows like Endeavour or Midsomer Murders (assuming they fit the mold) there’s bound to be a certain amount of confirmation bias.

On the other hand, the first two seasons of Star Trek were so good because Gene Roddenberry’s personal involvement ensured continuity. When a different production crew took over in the third season, it sucked. The concept itself became almost unimportant. So continuity does play an important role.

Director for an established TV series is a different job than director for a movie. On the established show, there’s already a script, casting is already done, the actors know their characters, sets are already built, crew is already hired, and so on. A lot of the decisions that a director might have to make for a movie are already made.

It’s not that the show runs itself, but it’s a lot easier job.

Watching shows like The Facts of Life, it’s easy to see every episode had the same director, and why. They have such rigid and firmly established formats, and the casts are so tuned in to what they should be doing at every given moment, that they pretty much do run themselves.

This is only true on multi-camera setups like sitcoms or talk shows, and even then it’s a gross oversimplification, Single-camera shows are put together like mini-movies, with a director doing a lot of the same tasks they would on a feature film. They don’t have the same degree of control that they would over a feature, since the episode needs to conform with the style and conventions of the rest of the series.

I recommend finding the production blog for the TV show Battlestar Galactica(the new one).

They talk somewhere in there about how they lay out the season and hire/assign directors based on a number of factors.

The short answer to your question is: Production is week to week and they need directors prepping forthcoming episodes while the current one is being made.

This has really become the case since X-files, which more or less made a 40 minute movie 20+ times per year. Their directors were a huge part of this.