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Former TV director to offer insider’s perspective in CSN workshop

Don Lewis Barnhart was the director of hundreds of television episodes, including “Mork & Mindy,” “Benson,” “Full House” and “Saved by the Bell.”

His penchant for the dramatic showed up early in life. Growing up in the San Fernando Valley, Barnhart didn’t just play cowboys and Indians with his friends, he told everyone where they would stand, when they were to enter the fray and who would be the one to succumb to his wounds.

“I was directing, even back then,” he said. “It was a fun time. I was always in charge, the guy in charge of the play.”

Now retired and living in Summerlin with his poodle, Jack, he plans to teach “The Director’s Eye, From My Perspective,” a workshop at the College of Southern Nevada, for writers, directors and editors, as well as actors who want to better understand the production side of the television business.

The class is set to begin Jan. 11 at CSN’s Sahara West Center, 2409 Las Verdes St. The seven-week program costs $165. To sign up, call 702-651-4747.

Betty Lougaris teaches voice acting at CSN, instructing those looking to work in commercials, documentaries and animation. Barnhart helped by directing some of her graduating students.

“They learn what the real world is like out there,” she said. “They get a taste of what the reality is and what you have to do to (perform) at that level. It’s a training you cannot match. … The experience of being directed by a professional of his caliber is priceless. It really is.”

Barnhart began his career as a disc jockey at KJAX in Santa Rosa, Calif., known as Jack Be Nimble. He spent 10 years in the radio business before making the leap to television as a stage manager.

He worked in that capacity on the daytime drama “General Hospital,” doing 1,000 episodes “and never called in sick,” he joked. That was followed by the “The Sonny and Cher Show.” Being stage manager meant dealing with egos and the stars’ failing marriage.

When that show ended, Barnhart stayed on to direct “The Sonny Bono Show.” The concept and format were the same, and the gags were nearly the same, only Cher was not there.

“It was like the Last Supper without Christ,” Barnhart said of the show, which lasted 13 weeks.

Being a stage manager led to an assistant director position. Barnhart worked in that capacity for numerous TV music specials with stars such as Johnny Cash and Frank Sinatra. His stage manager credits also include “McCloud,” “The Bionic Woman,” “Mork & Mindy” and “Beretta.”

In 1981, eager to move up to being a director, Barnhart was hired for the final season of “Benson.” His contract stipulated that he would be assistant director for five episodes and then direct the sixth. With the demo tape from that sixth show, he convinced creator Garry Marshall to make him director of “Mork & Mindy.”

His toughest task on that set was trying to keep up with the rapid-fire imagination of Robin Williams.

“His mental capacity was outrageous … He could do 10 minutes (talking to) an egg, which the audience loved,” Barnhart said. “But, in the editing room, you’d … try to make some sense out of it, we had to tighten his piece up. A show is only 22 minutes long.”

When Jonathan Winters joined the show, the ad-libbing between him and Williams took things to a new level.

“If you don’t learn funny from working (with them),” said Barnhart, “you shouldn’t be in the business.”

But Winters had difficulty remembering his lines. Barnhart and his crew members learned to edit around it. They used a technique Barnhart had learned from Tony Thomas, son of Danny Thomas, who was an executive producer on “Benson.” The technique was called “frame” editing, or “eyelash” editing. “Benson” star Robert Guillaume had personal quirks — rubbing his face, touching his hair and wiping his nose.

“He’d say his line and have a big blink right after the line, and it just wouldn’t look good,” Barnhart said. “So you’d edit the eye blink out. … And you carried the laugh (audio) over onto the (shot of the) acting partner. So, you saved him, and I learned how to edit from that.”

Barnhart went on to freelance, working on hundreds of television episodes before hooking up with “Saved by the Bell.” He was there for eight seasons.

These days, he’s writing novels and has self-published four. For much of last year, he returned to radio as a talk radio host on KLAV.

All of his television experience will come into play for his CSN workshop. He said he is holding the class as a “give back,” taking no payment.

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Contact Summerlin/Summerlin South View reporter Jan Hogan at or 702-387-2949.