David Mirkin

David Mirkin
David Mirkin
A seated man wearing a cap smiles as he looks into the distance. His hands are crossed.
Mirkin at Comic Con 2007
Born September 18, 1955 (1955-09-18) (age 56)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Occupation Director, writer, producer
Years active 1982–present
Partner Julie Brown (1990s)

David Mirkin (born September 18, 1955) is an American feature film and television director, writer and producer. Mirkin grew up in Philadelphia and intended to become an electrical engineer, but abandoned this career path in favor of studying film at Loyola Marymount University. After graduating, he became a stand-up comedian, and then moved into television writing. He wrote for the sitcoms Three's Company and Newhart, and worked on It's Garry Shandling's Show and The Larry Sanders Show. After an unsuccessful attempt to remake the British series The Young Ones, Mirkin created Get a Life in 1990. The series starred comedian Chris Elliott and ran for two seasons, despite a lack of support of many Fox network executives, who disliked the show's dark and surreal humor. He moved on to create the sketch show The Edge starring his then-partner, actress Julie Brown.

Mirkin left The Edge during its run and became the executive producer and showrunner of The Simpsons for its fifth and sixth seasons. Mirkin is seen by many as introducing a more surreal element to the show's humor, as shown by his sole writing credit for the show, "Deep Space Homer", which sees Homer Simpson go to space as part of a NASA program to restore interest in space exploration. Mirkin does not personally think that he made the show more satirical, feeling that he returned it to a focus on character, emotion and story. He won four Primetime Emmy Awards and a Peabody Award for his work on The Simpsons. Mirkin stood down as showrunner after season six, but produced several subsequent episodes, co-wrote The Simpsons Movie (2007) and remains on the show as a writer/producer. Mirkin has also moved into feature film direction: he directed the films Romy and Michele's High School Reunion (1997) and Heartbreakers (2001).


Early life

Mirkin was born and raised in Philadelphia and graduated from Northeast High School in 1975.[1] His father was a computer engineer.[2] Throughout his childhood, Mirkin had an interest in film, and explored both writing and filming.[2] Mirkin has described himself as a "nerd" and was often in trouble as a child because he was "in another world". At high school, he felt the teaching was "too slow" and was allowed by his teachers to "skip class two to three days a week."[3] Mirkin intended to pursue a career in electrical engineering. He took an internship at Philadelphia's Drexel University, but chose to abandon this career path because he realized that he "hated" it.[2] He decided to "[take] an enormous chance on show business" and moved to Los Angeles, California. He attended film school at Loyola Marymount University, and graduated in 1978.[2][4]

Mirkin lists Woody Allen and James L. Brooks as his writing inspirations and Stanley Kubrick and the work of the comedy group Monty Python as developing his "dark sense of humor." He considers Mike Nichols's film The Graduate to be what inspired him to enter directing.[2]


Early career

Mirkin started out as a stand-up comedian in 1982 and performed across the United States, including at The Comedy Store, where he became a regular, and at The Improv.[5] The first joke he used in his routine was, "Is it just me or has everybody been coughing up blood lately?" Mirkin considers the joke to be "an insight into the way [he writes]."[2] Stand-up comedy was the most profitable and easily accessible route Mirkin found into the comedy industry, but "it wasn't a lifestyle that [he] particularly coveted," especially due to the traveling required.[2]

He got his first job writing for television on the sitcom Three's Company.[5] Mirkin had been pitching ideas to the show for several years before his eventual success; the producers bought one of his scripts and he was hired as a staff writer.[2] Mirkin noted that Three's Company "had a classic French farce structure," and he observed, "the characters were so stupid they could never say anything clever, which forced you to put all the cleverness into the plot, a much more difficult thing to do. The plot had to get all the laughs. That taught me a lot about structure and has served me well throughout the rest of my career."[2] Next, Mirkin worked on Newhart from 1984 to 1988, serving as a writer, director and later executive producer and showrunner.[3][5][6] In 1987, he received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series for Newhart.[7] He also wrote for It's Garry Shandling's Show and The Tracey Ullman Show,[4][6] and worked as writer and consultant on The Larry Sanders Show during its first season, and later returned to direct the 1998 final season episode "The Beginning of the End".[4][5][8]

Get a Life and The Edge

Mirkin created Get a Life alongside Chris Elliott, who was also the show's lead actor

Mirkin produced a pilot for an American adaptation of the British sitcom The Young Ones, entitled Oh No, Not Them!, featuring Nigel Planer from the original series, as well as Jackie Earle Haley and Robert Bundy.[9][10] Mirkin had wanted to cast comedian Chris Elliott in the pilot, but was prevented by Fox, which wanted Elliott for another show. Oh No, Not Them!, in Mirkin's words, "tested through the floor" because it was too "surreal" and "sarcastic" and was not picked up. Mirkin and Elliott decided to develop a show together; along with Adam Resnick, and in 1990, they created the sitcom Get a Life, which was conceived as a dark, surreal, grown-up, psychotic version of Dennis the Menace.[9] The show stars Elliott as Chris Peterson, a 30-year-old newspaper delivery boy who still lives with his parents, and who is increasingly losing his grip on reality.[11][12] Fox was lukewarm about the idea, but Mirkin convinced them to order a pilot by understating how dark the show would be. The network executives "hated" the pilot after seeing an initial run-through, but Mirkin felt that this was because they "didn't get" the show and opted not to change it. The executives enjoyed the finished pilot and it was aired.[9] However, throughout the show's run, the network's initially negative attitude prevailed; many of the executives struggled to understand it and objected to the darkness and surrealism of the show's humor, which included the frequent death of Elliott's character, and regularly threatened to shut down production[9] and fire Mirkin.[13] After its first season, on the insistence of the network, Chris moves out of his parents' garage, attempts to get additional jobs to his paper route, and attempts to get a girlfriend. However, Mirkin and Elliott refused to "[compromise on] the essential goofiness of the show," while "there wasn't any pressure to make the show less wacky."[14]

Mirkin served as executive producer for the series, directed most of the episodes, wrote several of them, and oversaw the filming and production of them all, to ensure that they had the correct "tone".[5][6][9] The show's production process was lengthy; Mirkin would rise at 5 am to film the show, write further episodes from 7 pm until 1 am, and then repeat that the following day. Unlike most single-camera shows, which have around six days to film, Mirkin had to film each episode in two days. He enjoyed doing it, but described it as "not a healthy way to live".[9] Due to the logistics of filming the show, especially its many sets and effects, Mirkin convinced Fox to not film it in front of a studio audience and use a laugh track instead.[9][15] The show achieved steady ratings in its first season, finishing 92nd out of the 129 shows listed in the Nielsen ratings. However, for its second season, it was moved from 8:30 pm on Sunday to 9:30 pm on Saturday and lost the bulk of its audience; it was canceled after that second season finished in 1992.[11][14] In a 1999 piece about the show's DVD release, Tom Shales praised the show, concluding, "At its best, Get a Life achieved dizzying heights of surrealist farce. At its worst, it was at least amusingly idiotic existential slapstick. Get a Life is a television classic unlike any other. For one thing, most of the others are better. We're not talking Playhouse 90 here, after all. But we are talking riotous nonsense, and that's not to be sneezed at. It's to be laughed at. Hard."[11] A strong cult following subsequently developed.[12]

In 1991, Mirkin wrote a pilot with Julie Brown entitled The Julie Show, starring Brown, but NBC did not produce it.[16] Several people at the network enjoyed it and commissioned The Edge, a sketch comedy show also written by Mirkin and Brown. NBC felt the show was "too intense" for their network, but Fox ran it from 1992 to 1993.[16] As well as Brown, The Edge featured Tom Kenny, Jennifer Aniston and Wayne Knight.[17] Mirkin designed it to be "fast-paced" and "some skits overlap, end abruptly or are broken into segments," in order to maintain attention.[17] The show's material often inflamed its targets,[16] particularly producer Aaron Spelling. Spelling objected to a sketch mocking his series Beverly Hills, 90210, another Fox show, and its lead actress Tori Spelling, who is his daughter.[16][18] He demanded a public apology and that no further episodes contain the parody, threatening to sue. The show's production company TriStar Television refused, while Mirkin responded: "The thing about these parodies is they don't hurt a show. It's only cross-promotion. The viewers who like the show always come back the next week. What's upsetting to me is it shows absolutely that Mr. Spelling has no sense of humor."[18] Mirkin left his role as executive producer of The Edge during its run.[16][19] According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Mirkin had been "forced off the show," due to the negative reaction of Spelling and others.[16]

The Simpsons

Mirkin was the executive producer and showrunner for the animated series, The Simpsons during its fifth and sixth seasons (1993–1995).[20][21] Following the end of the show's fourth season, most of the original staff members left the show; only Bill Oakley, Josh Weinstein, Conan O'Brien and Dan McGrath remained, and O'Brien soon left to replace David Letterman as host of Late Night.[22] Executive producers James L. Brooks and Richard Sakai hired Mirkin following his exit from The Edge.[23] He had been asked to join the show's writing team when it started in 1989, but decided instead to work on Get a Life.[24] He very much enjoyed The Simpsons before being hired for the show,[6] and started work in November 1992. Due to the show's long production cycle, season five did not air until the following September.[25] Mirkin was the program's first solo showrunner and also directed the voice actors.[5] Due to the high staff departure at the end of season four, Mirkin "pretty much had to build [the] show from the ground up again," and noted that this "was exciting but also a big challenge."[6] He hired several new writers, including Richard Appel, David X. Cohen, Ken Keeler and Bob Kushell.[26]

His sole writing credit is for the episode "Deep Space Homer", in which the characters Homer and Barney are recruited by NASA. Mirkin had worked on the idea for the episode for a long time, and based the story on NASA's Teacher in Space Project scheme to send ordinary civilians into space in order to spark interest amongst the general public.[27] There was some controversy amongst the show's writing staff during production. Some of the writers felt that having Homer go into space was too "large" an idea.[27] Series creator Matt Groening felt that the idea was so big that it gave the writers "nowhere to go." Based on these attitudes, several jokes were toned down to make the episode feel more realistic, including the impression that everyone at NASA was as stupid as Homer.[28] During re-writes, the writers placed greater emphasis on the relationship between Homer and his family and on Homer's attempts to be a hero.[27] The episode is considered one of the show's best. Colin Kennedy of Empire magazine named it a "contender for greatest ever episode",[29] and in Chris Turner's book, Planet Simpson, he says the episode is "second to none". Regarding the long sequence that begins with Homer eating potato chips in the space shuttle and ends with Kent Brockman's dramatic speech, Turner claimed that it was "simply among the finest comedic moments in the history of television".[30]

Mirkin produced the two-part episode "Who Shot Mr. Burns?", which aired as the finale of season six and the premiere of season seven. The writers decided to write the episode in two parts with a mystery that could be used as a contest.[31] It was important for them to design a mystery that had clues, took advantage of freeze frame technology, and was structured around one character who seemed the obvious culprit.[31] Mirkin suggested Maggie Simpson as the culprit because he felt it was funnier and wanted the culprit to be a family member.[32] He also pitched the plots for the episodes "The Last Temptation of Homer", "Bart's Girlfriend" and "Homer the Great".[6][33][34][35]

In The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History (2009), John Ortved—using interviews with Kushell, Brent Forrester and Mirkin's assistant Charleen Easton—describes Mirkin as an "outsider" on the show because, unlike the bulk of the writing staff, Mirkin was not a Harvard University graduate.[36] The writing staff were, at least initially, divided with respect to Mirkin's leadership (which Forrester described as "a little bit dictatorial")[37] and style of humor. This division caused the show to move away from more "realistic" emotional and character-based stories to "pure comedy" and "surreal" humor, epitomized by episodes like "Deep Space Homer".[38] A. O. Scott notes that "several veterans recall the 'crazy David Mirkin years' as a time of wild inventiveness."[39] Mirkin conducted the show's writing sessions in one room, rather than splitting the writers into two groups, as other showrunners had done, and often worked late into the night.[37] Some praised Mirkin's leadership and comedic style, including Appel, who felt that "the shows were great under him."[37] Others criticised him. Kushell challenged Mirkin over the episode "A Star is Burns", a crossover with The Critic. Most of the writers opposed producing it, but it was supported by Brooks, with whom Mirkin agreed. Kushell's opposition went unheeded, and Mirkin insulted him in front of the other writers; Kushell's contract was not renewed.[40] In a 2004 interview with Animation Magazine, Mirkin stated that he "really wasn't at all intimidat[ed] to join [the show's writing] crew," because he "had worked with and written with" many of his fellow writers previously.[6] Mirkin said, "[I took] this show in a direction that is more personal to me. I did that, had a great time doing that, and everyone was very receptive to that."[6] He felt that he "brought [the show] back to a more story-oriented" approach and increased the focus on characters and their emotions, while "at the same time still keeping it surreal and weird".[6] During his tenure, Mirkin moved the show's focus toward Homer, and also developed some of the secondary characters, including Apu.[6][23] He also strongly opposed censorship and network interference, telling post-production supervisor Colin A.B.V. Lewis to ignore the list of changes sent by the Fox censors.[41] He aimed to put "as much blood and guts" as possible into the episode "Treehouse of Horror V" as an attack on the censors.[42] Mirkin's era and style of humor are popular amongst the show's fans.[23]

After season six, Mirkin suggested Oakley and Weinstein take over as showrunners, but remained on the show in an advisory capacity, helping them with technical aspects of the show such as editing and sound mixing, and attending table readings of the scripts.[22][43] He was the executive producer for three other episodes from season seven: "Lisa the Vegetarian", "Radioactive Man" and "Team Homer".[44][45] "Lisa the Vegetarian" was approved by Mirkin after the story was pitched by Cohen; Mirkin had just become a vegetarian himself, and so many of Lisa's experiences in the episode were based on his own.[46] Mirkin flew to London to record the episode's guest stars Paul and Linda McCartney at Paul's recording studio,[47] where the McCartneys spent an hour recording their parts. Mirkin later said that recording with the McCartneys was one of the most "amazing" experiences of his life and considers the episode to be one of his favorites.[46] Mirkin returned to the role of showrunner to produce the episodes "The Joy of Sect" and "All Singing, All Dancing" for season nine.[48] He pitched the plot for "The Joy of Sect", because he was attracted to the notion of parodies of cults, calling them "comical, interesting and twisted."[49] Mirkin still works part-time on the show, helping with the re-write process;[50][51] he also co-wrote The Simpsons Movie in 2007.[52] Mirkin won four Primetime Emmy Awards and a Peabody Award for his work on The Simpsons.[5]

Subsequent work

Mirkin directed the feature film Romy and Michele's High School Reunion in 1997.[5] The film stars Mira Sorvino and Lisa Kudrow as two friends determined to show their former high school tormentors at their 10-year reunion that they have led successful lives. Mirkin said of the film: "These are women characters we haven't seen before. There are so few female buddy movies, written funny for women. Women don't get to do odd, strange, self-involved roles like these."[4] He knew Kudrow previously and felt she was "perfect" for the role, but did not expect Sorvino would take the part given her recent Academy Award win for Mighty Aphrodite, but it "turn[ed] out that she'd had a horrible time in high school, so the story appealed to her."[4] The film received critical praise, as did Mirkin's direction.[53] James Berardinelli wrote that Mirkin "brings a lot of energy to the production, always keeping things moving,"[54] while Jack Matthews of The Los Angeles Times says Mirkin "knew exactly what he had here and composed it like frames in a comic strip, ordering cheerful snow-cone colors for everything from the girls' childlike outfits to the decor of a Laundromat."[55]

In 1999, several of the Fox executives who had disliked Get a Life came to Mirkin and apologized for the way they had treated the show, stating that they now found it funny. They commissioned Mirkin to write, produce and direct a similarly-themed show of his choice. Mirkin produced a pilot for Jeff of the Universe, a "sarcastic" parody of the science fiction genre. The executives who had disproved of Get a Life had since moved from the Fox Network to Fox Studios, and they liked this new show. However, the new executives at Fox did not, and chose not to air the show. Mirkin often plays clips from the show at the talks he does at colleges; they receive a positive response.[9][12]

In 2001 he directed Heartbreakers. Mirkin rejected the project three times because he disliked the script. While he liked the idea of a mother and daughter con-woman team, he found the writing "really broad," and "it had no emotion in it." Eventually, Mirkin was allowed to rewrite the script himself, which he did in a year's time. He filmed the project in Florida and Los Angeles and had a cameo appearance in the film as Jack's lawyer.[5] Reactions to both the film and Mirkin's direction of it were more varied compared to Romy and Michele's High School Reunion.[56] Roger Ebert said the film was not "as sly and has no ambition to be [as] charming" as Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, "but in a season of dreary failed comedies it does what a comedy must: It makes us laugh."[57] Chris Hewitt of Empire wrote that "Mirkin's direction is a little flat, but he's clearly having tremendous fun,"[58] but Susan Wloszczyna of USA Today opined that Mirkin "never gets the timing right and allows the story to drag with little internal logic."[59]

In 2004, Mirkin was attached to direct Sports Widow, a comedy starring Reese Witherspoon as a disregarded housewife who seeks to become an expert in American football in order to regain her husband's attention; the project has never been completed.[50][60][61] Mirkin enjoys the music of James Taylor[23] and directed the music videos for his songs "Enough to Be on Your Way" and "Sea Cruise".[5][62][63]

As of 2011, he will write, direct and co-produce a biopic of businessman Richard Branson, based on his memoir Losing My Virginity.[64]

Personal life

Mirkin is a vegetarian.[46] In the early 1990s, Mirkin was in a relationship with actress Julie Brown, with whom he had worked on The Julie Show and The Edge; the two considered getting married.[16][65]



Year Film Role
1986 Last Resort Actor (as Walter Ambrose)
1997 Romy and Michele's High School Reunion Director
2001 Heartbreakers Director
Actor (as Jack's lawyer)
2007 The Simpsons Movie Writer
TBA Losing My Virginity Writer, director, producer


Year Series Role Notes
1983–1984 Three's Company Writer, story editor Wrote: "Janet's Little Helper", "Out on a Limb", "Now You See It, Now You Don't", "Look What I Found", "Jack Takes Off", "Forget Me Not" (teleplay)
1984 Three's a Crowd Writer Wrote: "A Little Competition"
1984–1988 Newhart Executive producer and showrunner, writer, director, executive script supervisor Wrote: "Lady in Wading", "You're Nobody 'til Somebody Hires You", "The Geezers in the Band", "The Stratford Horror Picture Show", "Torn Between Three Brothers", "Co-Hostess Twinkie", "Thanksgiving for the Memories", "Night Moves", "Telethon Man", A Friendship That Will Last a Lunchtime", "A Midseason's Night Dream"
Directed: "Night Moves", "Telethon Man", "A Midseason's Night Dream"
1986 It's Garry Shandling's Show Writer
1987 The Tracey Ullman Show Writer
1990–1992 Get a Life Creator, executive producer, writer, director, actor Wrote: "Terror on the Hell Loop 2000", "Drivers License", "Married", "Psychic 2000", "Chris Moves Out", "Girlfriend 2000", "Clip Show"
Directed: "Terror on the Hell Loop 2000", "The Prettiest Week of My Life", "Drivers License", "Bored Straight", "The Counterfeit Watch Story", "Married", "The Construction Worker Show", "Neptune 2000", "Chris and Larry Switch Lives", "Psychic 2000", "Chris Moves Out", "Larry on the Loose", "Meat Locker 2000", "Chris Gets His Tonsils Out", "Prisoner of Love", "Girlfriend 2000", "Bad Fish", "Spewey and Me", "1977 2000", "Clip Show"
Actor: "Larry on the Loose" (as Businessman)
1991 The Julie Show Creator, executive producer
1992–1993 The Edge Creator, executive producer, writer, director
1992, 1998 The Larry Sanders Show Writer, consultant, director Directed: "The Beginning of the End"
1993–present The Simpsons Executive producer and showrunner (1993–1995, 1996, 1998)
producer, consulting producer and writer
Wrote: "Deep Space Homer"
Directed: "Treehouse of Horror VI" (live-action segment)
1999 Jeff of the Universe Creator, producer, director, writer


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