August 27, 1986
Mark Linn-Baker is
a Stranger to TV Sitcoms
By Susan King - Herald Staff Writer
Photo by Javier Mendoza - Herald Photographer
For years, actor
Mark Linn-Baker has had a successful career in theater. He's appeared on
and off Broadway, performed in regional theater, directed plays and
taught. Because theater doesn't pay all that well, Linn-Baker says he has
decided to bring a little financial security to his life by doing television.
have seen the 32-year-old actor in the American Playhouse drama "The Ghost
Writer," as a regular on the ill-fated CBS summer comedy series
"Comedy Zone" and as a guest star on "Miami Vice,"
"Moonlighting" and "The Equalizer." And now he's
starring with Bronson Pinchot ("Beverly Hills Cop") in the ABC comedy
series "Perfect Strangers," airing tonight at 8 on KABC - Channel 7.
Strangers," Linn-Baker plays photojournalist Larry Appleton, a young man
living on his own for the first time whose life is turned upside down when his
naive immigrant cousin Balki Bartokomous (Pinchot) comes to live with him.
Sitting in an office
at Lorimar during a rehearsal break, the curly haired, soft spoken actor says
that he hadn't been ready to do a series until recently.
"You sign a
five-year contract, whether it (the series) goes or not," he says.
"Up until the last couple of years, I haven't been ready to make that
commitment, but then I decided I was ready and happy to do it. I'm getting
older and at some point, I'd like to have a family."
Linn-Baker met with Tom Miller and Bob Boyett, the executive producers of
to talk after Christmas. We had a lot of similar ideas about where to go
with the character that I play. So I tested for the network and they
Though he and
Pinchot are not involved in script meetings, they have say after they get the
scripts. "We add our own business," he says. "We take
what they've written and we take it farther and in different directions.
The writers will decide whether it's fruitful and run with it further."
Linn-Baker is proud
of "Perfect Strangers."
"We're doing a
good show. It's a wonderful opportunity to have good work in TV."
Zone" was an experience he doesn't want to remember. "It was a
huge mass of talent -- some of the greatest contemporary writers of off-Broadway
and Broadway and some great actors," he says.
The 1984 show failed
because "there were four bureaucracies who all thought they were running
the show: the original production group, Nederlander TV, CBS Comedy Development
and CBS Standards and Practices. There was no clear heirarchy.
Everybody was trying to run the show. CBS decided it was a failure before
we started shooting it. The creative people were just buried."
Linn-Baker was born
in St. Louis and grew up in Connecticut. "My folks were always
involved in theater," he says. "That's how they met. My
father was directing a show my mother was in. They got out of the theater
when they had a family and my father went into radio copywriting, but they were
always involved in theater when I was growing up. It was something I was
always involved in."
his bachelor's and master's degrees in acting from Yale University. The
graduate program, he says, consisted of "three years of working from 9 in
the morning until 11 at night or later, on show after show after show.
Being involved with three or four shows at a time at the Yale Rep (Yale
Repertory Theater, a professional company associated with the school), for the
school, at the cabaret and special projects assigned to the school meant three
years of working, doing nothing but theater.
While still in
school, the actor also appeared as Bertram in Joseph Papp's New York Shakespeare
Festival production of "All's Well That Ends Well."
"At the time I
thought it was a great summer job," Linn-Baker says. "I didn't
realize until years later that was one of the most prestigious theater jobs in
New York. I was lucky that before I got out of school, I had already
worked in New York and already had an agent."
But he points out
that things were still rough for him at the beginning.
"You work a lot
of jobs that don't pay a lot of money, you just get by and you go where the work
is," he says.
It was while he
appeared off-Broadway that casting agents recommended him for the role as young
TV writer Benjy Stone in the 1982 film "My Favorite Year."
Linn-Baker met and
read for director Richard Benjamin in New York. Three months later, he got
Favorite Year," Linn-Baker got film offers. He returned to theater
because none of the offers interested him.
For the past two
years, Linn-Baker has branched out into directing.
something I was interested in doing and I thought I could do well," he
says. "I have been very happy with the work I have done."
During the recent
hiatus of "Perfect Strangers," the actor directed a show
off-off-Broadway called "L.A. Freewheeling" and worked with a theater
company called The Double Image Theater.
"We developed a
summer program at Vassar College: a training program coupled with a professional
company along the lines of my experience at the Yale Drama School. We do
three productions there, two of which we bring to New York in the fall to run
off-Broadway. The first summer there, I was acting, teaching and
directing. One of the shows I directed ('Savage in Limbo' by John Patrick
Shanley) came into New York."
one reason for the current crisis in New York theater is due to the increasing
value of real estate. "It's become harder and harder for artists to
get together and do work simply because of the cost of space," he
says. "That's a big difference from New York of 10 or 15 years ago,
when people could just do stuff on shoestring. That's why a lot of theater
is coming out of Chicago and happening here."
He's been to several
plays in Los Angeles. The theater scene here, he says, "seems to be
growing and vital," but he has yet to appear on stage locally.
out here is Equity-waiver theater, which means you don't get paid," he
says. "Theater has been my livelihood . . . I do a lot of theater in
New York that doesn't pay money, but they're projects I've either initiated or
friends of mine have initiated; people whom I'm interested in working
finishes filming "Perfect Strangers," he'll return to New York and his
life in theater. "It's on ongoing involvement," he says.
"An actor has
to balance his life the same way theater has to balance its own existence,"
he says, "You look for the work that satisfies your soul and you look
for the work that will keep food on your table. Hopefully, the two will
coincide enough to keep you going."