25 TV Stars Who Directed Their Own Shows
Jennifer Garner, Jon Hamm, and Ellen Pompeo have all directed the TV shows that made them famous.
One of the perks of starring on a TV show? Having the chance to get your feet wet in a behind-the-scenes role, which is what so many of our favorite TV stars have done over the years. Actors who starred on shows like Grey's Anatomy, The Office, and Breaking Bad have given the director's chair a spin—doing double duty by directing and acting in the same episode. These TV stars who directed their own shows proved their savvy by calling the shots, and many of them managed to find a new passion in the process.
Ellen Pompeo, Grey's Anatomy
Because Grey's Anatomy has been running for a staggering 16 seasons, the actors who star on the show have had plenty of time to learn how things work behind the scenes. In fact, many of them—including Kevin McKidd, Chandra Wilson, Jesse Williams, and Debbie Allen—have taken their turn in the director's chair, and in 2017, it was Ellen Pompeo's turn. Meredith Grey herself made her directorial debut in the Season 13 episode "Be Still, My Soul."
"I have a very specific vision and I see a lot of things that people miss, so I started thinking about it, and it's hard to say no to Debbie Allen—especially when your boss [Shonda Rhimes] writes a book titled Year of Yes," Pompeo told The Hollywood Reporter. "I just have to try it once and if I don't like it, I don't have to do it again."
But she did like it, and Pompeo went on to direct the Season 14 episode "Old Scars, Future Hearts," too.
David Schwimmer, Friends
Over Friends' successful 10-season run, David Schwimmer—who played Ross Geller—directed 10 episodes. His directorial debut was the Season 6 episode "The One on the Last Night," and Schwimmer went on to direct episodes in Season 7, Season 8, and Season 10.
Kelsey Grammer, Frasier
While Frasier was on the air from 1994 to 2004, Kelsey Grammer managed to play the title role and direct 36 episodes. Dan Butler, who played Bob "Bulldog" Briscoe on the show, also tried his hand at directing, with the 1998 episode "Frasier Gotta Have It."
Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad
Bryan Cranston's stint as Walter White on Breaking Bad gave him the opportunity to direct three episodes: "Blood Money," "No Más," and "Seven Thirty-Seven." And according to the star himself, it was a bit of a challenge.
"As a director you come in, and tell the actors how good they are," Cranston told AMC's Breaking Bad blog. "The thing that you have to be cautious about when you're directing yourself is when you're in a scene, you can't watch the other actors, so you need to make sure you're getting what you need. I always advised the producers on set what I was looking for, and to make sure that we got it."
Hugh Laurie, House
While Hugh Laurie was starring as Dr. Gregory House on House from 2004 to 2012, he also directed two episodes, "The C Word" and "Lockdown." Before making his directorial debut, Laurie shared his excitement in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter in 2009.
"I am thrilled, daunted, and honored … by this new responsibility," he said. "House scripts are Fabergé eggs, and I will try my very hardest not to drop this one on a stone floor."
Neil Patrick Harris, How I Met Your Mother
For nine seasons, Neil Patrick Harris starred as womanizing schemer Barney Stinson on How I Met Your Mother. He also directed the 2010 episode "Jenkins." At the time, Harris told TV Guide that he enjoyed directing even more than acting—although he did admit it was hard to direct himself in the scenes he was in.
"It was very strange," he said. "I was doing a scene in the bar with Jason [Segel] and Josh Radnor, and I'm thinking, 'Great take. Love that. Oh, we should speed that part up a little bit.' Then I had to quickly think, 'Wait, it's my line.' I was very happy to not be in many scenes."
Shannen Doherty, Charmed
On top of starring as Prue Halliwell on the early 2000s series about witchy sisters, Shannen Doherty also directed three episodes of Charmed: "All Hell Breaks Loose," "The Good, The Bad, and The Cursed," and "Be Careful What You Witch For." And yes, that included directing her character's death.
"The first time that I [directed] on the show, it was difficult. I actually found myself standing in the scene as the actor and doing nothing but looking at where the cameras were and if all of my actors were on their spots," Doherty said during a fan panel. "But the second time, it was super easy. It was my favorite part of doing Charmed, to be honest, because you sort of got to have your vision and make it come to life. And the last episode I was in, I also directed, and it was kind of a really cool thing to be able to direct your exit, your swan song, your own death."
Zach Braff, Scrubs
The same year he directed Garden State, Zach Braff—who played J.D. on Scrubs—directed his first episode of the medical sitcom. Over the series' nine-season run, Braff directed seven episodes, most notably the 100th episode, "My Way Home." And he has continued to pursue directing since Scrubs ended, including two more feature films.
"I'm here to make you look funny; I'm on your side," Braff told Campaign about his approach toward directing. "I can do it if you trust me—it's all about trust."
Alan Alda, M*A*S*H
For 11 years, Alan Alda starred on M*A*S*H as Captain Benjamin Franklin "Hawkeye" Pierce; impressively enough, he played the character for over 250 episodes. And he directed 32, including the iconic series finale, which drew 105.97 million total viewers. No pressure!
Mindy Kaling, The Office
Mindy Kaling made her mark playing Kelly Kapoor on The Office, but she worked on the show in a few different capacities. Kaling wrote 22 episodes of the series, along with being a staff writer on 5 additional episodes, and she directed 2: "Michael's Last Dundies" and "Body Language."
Richard Schiff, The West Wing
On The West Wing, Richard Schiff played White House communications director Toby Ziegler from 1999 to 2006. He also ended up directing two of the show's episodes, "A Good Day" and "Talking Points."
William Shatner, T.J. Hooker
William Shatner is best known for his role as Captain James T. Kirk on Star Trek, but he also played the title role on T.J. Hooker for five seasons, and he directed 10 episodes of the police drama. A few years after the series ended, he directed 1989's Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.
Robin Wright, House of Cards
When looking back at directing 10 episodes of House of Cards—on which she also starred as first lady then president Claire Underwood—Robin Wright told Variety it felt significant to step into that behind-the-scenes arena as a woman.
"Traditionally we've been in this film industry, and it's a man's world and predominantly male directors forever. That's just the way we've known this industry," she said. "I think [we need to open] up that pool to diversity—everybody bringing their stories to life, and just get out of the compartmentalization of it."
Robin Williams, Mork & Mindy
The late Robin Williams will always be remembered for his comedy chops, but he also made his directorial debut while filming Mork & Mindy. Williams, who played the alien named Mork on the '80s sitcom, directed the 1982 series finale, "The Mork Report."
Craig T. Nelson, Coach
On Coach, Craig T. Nelson starred as Hayden Fox, the coach of the fictional Minnesota State University football team. The show premiered in 1989 and ran for nine seasons, during which time Nelson directed 25 episodes.
Although Jennifer Garner has built a major career for herself, many fans will always associate her with the role that shot her to stardom, international spy Sydney Bristow on Alias. Garner took on the job of director for the first and last time in the 2005 episode "In Dreams…" While talking to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, she admitted that, despite all her prep work, she did make a few mistakes.
"I do like a strong 'Action' and a firm and happy 'Cut,' so I did try to do that," Garner said. "But of course, on the first day and a couple of times when I got to be behind the monitor instead of in the scene, I forgot to say it. I had to write 'Action' on a piece of tape on the monitor to remind myself."
David Duchovny, The X-Files
During his stint as Fox Mulder on the original run of The X-Files in the '90s, David Duchovny directed three episodes: "William," "Hollywood A.D.," and "The Unnatural." But when the recent revival came around, Duchovny wasn't interested in directing again, especially if it meant he wouldn't be able to dedicate as much of himself to playing his character.
"If I'm going to direct a show, it necessitates that I'm very light in the [previous episode] so I can prep it, and it necessitates that I'm somewhat light in the show afterwards, so that I can do post," Duchovny explained in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. "So really what I'm asking for, if I'm directing an X-File, is, 'Okay, you're doing 10, but I've got to be light in 3 out of those 10.' And that's just not fair, really."
Jason Bateman, Arrested Development
Jason Bateman has a thing for directing the shows he's doing. When he played Michael Bluth on Arrested Development, he directed the 2004 episode "Afternoon Delight." And he has directed eight episodes of Ozark, the Netflix series he's currently starring on.
Tim Allen, Home Improvement
Like Bateman, actor-comedian Tim Allen likes to get in the director's chair on the shows he's starring on. While playing Tim Taylor on the '90s sitcom Home Improvement, Allen directed the 1999 episode "Loose Lips and Freudian Slips," but more recently, he's also directed three episodes of Last Man Standing.
Mary Tyler Moore, The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Of course, Mary Tyler Moore's most iconic role was on her own sitcom, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which ran from 1970 to 1977. She directed the 1974 episode "A Boy's Best Friend," which ended up being the one and only directorial effort of her career.
Jon Hamm, Mad Men
Mad Men may have been an ensemble series in many ways, but it's hard to deny that Jon Hamm's Don Draper was something of a lead. Despite his starring role, Hamm found time to direct two episodes of AMC's acclaimed drama, "Collaborators" and "Tea Leaves."
"It was fun, it was invigorating," Hamm told Reuters about his directorial debut in 2012. "It was the first show back that we shot after that long lay-off. It was wonderful to get a totally different perspective, not only on the show but on these wonderful actors I have known, and to watch them work from an objective viewpoint. It really enables you to see how much work goes into creating a TV show before the actors come on set."
Laura Innes, ER
One of the longest running shows on television, ER spanned 15 seasons, and Laura Innes was a major part of that legacy, appearing as Dr. Kerry Weaver in an incredible 249 episodes. During that time, she also directed 12 episodes of the series. By the time Innes was ready to make her ER departure, she already had a directing deal in place with the show's creator, John Wells.
Jason Alexander, Seinfeld
Jason Alexander is known for playing George Costanza on Seinfeld, but he also had a hand in the '90s "show about nothing" behind the scenes, directing the 1992 episode "The Good Samaritan." As Alexander revealed in a 2014 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, directing ended up becoming a passion of his.
"If I could really move my career much more into predominantly directing, I would jump at that," he said at the time.
Dave Coulier, Fuller House
After playing Joey on Full House, Dave Coulier got the chance to reprise the role on Netflix's sequel series Fuller House—and that also afforded him the opportunity to step behind the camera. He directed five episodes of the series, which recently wrapped filming its fifth and final season. And although creator Jeff Franklin admitted in an interview with Business Insider that he had concerns about letting Coulier direct, it turned out better than expected.
"We were a little nervous, because Dave's a big kid," Franklin said. "But he really stepped up, took it very seriously, and did a great job."
Peter Krause, Parenthood
At the same time Peter Krause was starring as Peter Braverman on the NBC family drama Parenthood, he also directed three episodes over the course of the series' six-season run: "A Potpourri of Freaks," "Small Victories," and "Politics."