After two decades away, Lars Von Trier will return to television with The House That Jack Built, a high-end drama. No further details have been released, but based on the director’s controversial career in film — including the two-part Nymphomaniac — there is no doubt that The House That Jack Built will immediately become must-see television. Until that show premieres (it isn’t even filming until 2016), here are some other famous film directors who have directed television.
Amy Heckerling — Episode 1×06 of The Office, “Hot Girl”
Heckerling is best known for writing and directing Clueless and Look Who’s Talking and directing Fast Times at Ridgemont High. All three went on to become television series, and Heckerling directed episodes of Clueless and Fast Times. But one of her most notable TV jobs came early in Season 1 of The Office, where she easily adapted to the mockumentary format and painted a lovely but heartbreaking picture of Pam.
Gus Van Sant — Episode 1×01 of Boss, “Listen”
Gus Van Sant’s not the most typical choice when it comes to television directing, and you certainly wouldn’t expect to see him presiding over a political drama starring Kelsey Grammer, yet he took on 2011’s season premiere of Boss. It was not a particularly good episode, but the directing outshone the writing, with close-ups that really showcased the inner turmoil of the characters.
Quentin Tarantino — Episode 1×24 of ER, “Motherhood”
ER quickly became one of NBC’s biggest shows ever, so it’s only fitting that Quentin Tarantino, who was one of the film’s most talked-about directors in 1995, directed the penultimate episode of the first season. “Motherhood” deals largely with various characters’ familial relationships, but Tarantino made sure to put his mark on the episode: sunbathing characters wear retro sunglasses, Alexis Arquette and Kathy Griffin have small roles, and, of course, copious amounts of blood. (Tarantino was later nominated for an Emmy for directing an episode of CSI.)
Rian Johnson — Episode 1×05 of Terriers, “Manifest Destiny”
Rian Johnson’s films, especially Brick, are master classes in stylistic directing. He brought this touch to three episodes of Breaking Bad including the divisive “Fly” and the masterpiece “Ozymandias,” widely considered one of the best episodes in the history of television. But Johnson also directed an episode of Terriers, a clever cult hit on FX that still holds up.
Catherine Hardwicke — Episode 1×01 of Reckless, “Pilot”
Reckless premiered on CBS earlier this summer but was quickly forgotten. It’s a sultry Southern lawyer soap opera (I know) that wasn’t nearly as lurid as CBS had hoped, but Catherine Hardwicke, of Thirteen and the Twilight franchise, was a great choice to breathe some life into the pilot and showcase the series’ Southern setting.
Mary Harron — Episode 5×06 of Six Feet Under, “The Rainbow of Her Reasons”
Many people believe that Six Feet Under overstayed its welcome — particularly after Season 4 — but there were still plenty of good episodes to be found in the final season, like “The Rainbow of Her Reasons.” Harron directed American Psycho, so she’s no stranger to death, but here the best parts are more subtle, like Claire realizing how mundane office work can be or David and Keith adjusting to parents. Plus, there’s the “Calling All Angels” scene.
Susan Seidelman — Episode 1×01 of Sex and the City, “Pilot”
Seidelman had a string of great movies in the late ’80s — Smithereens, Desperately Seeking Susan, She-Devil, etc. — before moving on to television. She famously helmed the pilot of Sex and the City, an episode of television that ushered into a new TV landscape, and later directed two other episodes in the series.
Agnieszka Holland — Episode 3×08 of The Wire, “Moral Midgetry”
Director Agnieszka Holland is perhaps best known in Poland for her fantastic and sometimes harrowing films Europa, Europa and In Darkness (which was nominated for an Academy Award), but she has also been behind the camera for two of HBO’s shows: The Wire and Treme. Holland directed Season 3’s “Moral Midgetry,” featuring an unforgettable showdown between Stringer and Avon.
Martin Scorsese — Episode 1×01 of Boardwalk Empire, “Pilot”
One of the most well-known entries on this list but no less impressive, Scorsese famously directed the series premiere of Boardwalk Empire. He made great use of the $18 million budget to create a 73-minute pilot that brought viewers into the year 1920 and set up a twisted — and thoroughly enjoyable — criminal world.
David Fincher — Episode 1×01 of House of Cards, “Pilot”
House of Cards starts dark and gets darker, so who better to direct the first two episodes of Netflix’s thriller than David Fincher? Prior to the show’s premiere, he was the biggest draw of Netflix’s experiment with original programming. Fincher’s expert directing helped to frame Frank’s Machiavellian characteristics and make the entire story richer.