Los Angeles Herald-Examiner
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.

Recently, audiences 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.

In "Perfect 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."

Before Christmas, Linn-Baker met with Tom Miller and Bob Boyett, the executive producers of "Perfect Strangers."

"We continued 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 approved."

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."

"Comedy 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."

Linn-Baker received 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 the job.

After "My 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.

"It was 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."

Linn-Baker believes 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.

"Most theater 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 with."

After Linn-Baker 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."