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5 Great Television Directors

October 11, 2010

These five aren’t the most decorated, though in some cases they are probably the best known to folks who pay attention to that sort of thing. I mostly stuck with dramatic television, as it’s the genre where I’m more familiar with the directors.

Tim Van Patten – Oh this is the king of television directors. Van Patten was usually at the helm of most of my favorite episodes of The Sopranos, Sex and the City and The Wire. Of course he’s done time with H:LOTS, helming the fantastic episode “Nothing Personal”. Though for some inexplicable reason Van Patten is probably better known for playing Salami on 1970s basketball dramedy The White Shadow.

Alan Taylor – Of what seems like a slew of fabulous television directors named Alan, – Allen Coutler and Alan Poul – Taylor is my favorite. Even without seeing his name in the credits I can nearly always tell when he’s at the helm. I would have to spend some time with his directing credits to isolate what elements frequently reoccur, but off the top of my head, I really like his use of color and how he frames shots. It feels very much like he curates every single frame, which makes sense given that his mother is a curator. Two of my favorite directorial efforts by Taylor are the H:LOTS episode “Autofocus” and the infamous “post-it” episode of Sex and the City, “The Post-It Always Sticks Twice”.

Mario Van Peebles – Oh sure some of his early acting efforts leave a lot to be desired, but the son of legendary auteur Melvin Van Peebles, has come into his own as a television director. Recently, Mario Van Peebles turned up as the director of an episode of the sublime legal thriller Damages (where he also did a stint as an actor) and I am really loving his work. He doesn’t take the kind of chances his father’s work does, but I still admire the way he brings a level of kinetic grittiness to the episodes he helms.

Kathy Bates – It’s always a treat whenever the Oscar-winning actor steps behind the camera. She cut her teeth on gritty cop shows like H:LOTS and NYPD Blue and went on to helm wonderfully nuanced episodes of Six Feet Under and Oz. I think one of her best directing efforts was the season two episode of six Feet Under entitled, “Out, Out Brief Candle”.

Tim Hunter – Tim Hunter is the director of my favorite H:LOTS episode Nearer My God to Thee and other great episodes including: The City That Bleeds and Thrill of the Kill – one of my most recent recaps. Hunter seems – as best as I can tell – to be the Terrence Malick of TV directors, which pretty much only means something if you are familiar with or enjoy the works of Terrence Malick. Though I’m pretty sure Hunter is far more prolific. He helmed a handful of episodes of Mad Men, which I found so odd because it’s just not a show I think is tailored to his strengths, but nevertheless, his work on the show was quite skillful.

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16 Comments leave one →
  1. October 11, 2010 4:12 pm

    Kathy Bates is delish! Often when actors step behind the camera, the result is flat and a bit boring, but she proved she’s got the chops for it. I really liked her work on ‘Twilight’ (the Six Feet Under episode, not the vampire franchise).

  2. Alyx Vesey permalink
    October 11, 2010 4:28 pm

    Here here, Kathy Bates!

  3. evmaroon permalink
    October 11, 2010 5:32 pm

    I’m not surprised that Kathy Bates makes for excellent director material! Snarky, which shows would you like to see these five fine folks working on, if the universe would listen?

  4. October 11, 2010 5:56 pm

    Kathy Bates is delish! Often when actors step behind the camera, the result is flat and a bit boring, but she proved she’s got the chops for it. I really liked her work on ‘Twilight’ (the Six Feet Under episode, not the vampire franchise).

    Oh that’s a fantastic episode. Sometimes Bates’ acting appearances on SFU overshadowed her excellent directing work.

    @Alyx – Kathy Bates is just amazing.

    @Everett – Would love to see Kathy Bates direct episodes of Mad Men or Damages. She’d be fantastic at either.

  5. evmaroon permalink
    October 11, 2010 7:28 pm

    Would love to see Kathy Bates direct episodes of Mad Men

    Oooh, I would, too! I’d like to see her take on The Good Wife, too. And Tim Hunter direct an episode of Dexter.

  6. eieioj permalink
    October 11, 2010 8:22 pm

    I didn’t know Kathy Bates directed any of those shows, but now I’m gonna have to go back and see if the SFUs that she directed are ones that I like…

  7. October 11, 2010 10:03 pm

    What?! No Eric Laneuville?!?! We aren’t speaking.

  8. October 11, 2010 10:04 pm

    @Penpusher! I’m not familiar with Laneuville. He’s not old school is he? I also forgot Bruce Paltrow and Stephen Gyllenhaal!

  9. October 11, 2010 10:11 pm

    @Snarky’s. Well if you know Paltrow, you know Laneuville, since he was Luther on “St. Elsewhere,” and has gone on to direct a MEGATON of TV series including that aforementioned series, and such wide varieties of other programs as “Lost,” “Everybody Hates Chris,” “Prison Break,” “Scrubs” “Heroes,” “Ghost Whisperer” “Gilmore Girls” and “CSI: NY!”

    I’m not really sniping here. These are good choices, but when I saw the headline, I just thought to myself… aha, there’s going to be a Laneuville tribute coming! 😛

  10. October 11, 2010 10:44 pm

    I love you took the time to spotlight TV directors, who are often the unsung heroes of episodic television.

    I have to admit I usually don’t pay attention to them unless an actor takes a stab at it (like John Slattery’s great work on Mad Men this season). So it’s nice to connect the dots and see that Alan Taylor, for example, directed the Post-It note episode of SATC and quality Mad Men and Lost episodes too.

  11. October 12, 2010 9:07 am

    All smashing choices! I would add to your list Paris Barclay. A couple years I realized he’s done a lot of guest directing on shows I liked (CSI, Lost, Huff), a dozen other popular shows I haven’t seen, as well as much of the In Treatment series I got addicted to.

  12. October 12, 2010 9:23 am

    @Snarky’s. Well if you know Paltrow, you know Laneuville, since he was Luther on “St. Elsewhere,” and has gone on to direct a MEGATON of TV series including that aforementioned series, and such wide varieties of other programs as “Lost,” “Everybody Hates Chris,” “Prison Break,” “Scrubs” “Heroes,” “Ghost Whisperer” “Gilmore Girls” and “CSI: NY!”

    Of all those shows I’ve only watched Scrubs. Wow, I had no idea that Luther had moved on to directing. That’s pretty spectacular. He’s like Clark Johnson and Timothy Busfield, who have also moved behind the camera.

    I almost listed Peter Weller because he helmed an awesome episode of Homicide starring Terry O’Quinn!

  13. Eliza permalink
    October 13, 2010 11:44 pm

    Aaah, no Jamie Babbitt, the woman we also have to thank for But I’m a Cheerleader!

  14. October 14, 2010 2:02 am

    Sorry, no. I don’t like anything she’s been involved in. Loathe Gilmore Girls.

  15. October 14, 2010 8:23 am

    Timothy Busfield and Ken Olin – have other thirtysomething cast gone on to directing tv? if there’s a third, that’s a post in itself!

    ETA: right after posting this, I remember Peter Horton has been all over Grey’s Anatomy!

  16. October 14, 2010 10:43 am

    Melanie Mayron directs too!!!

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