Angeles TV Times
July 5 - 11, 1992
'Stranger' to the Stage
Linn-Baker puts part of his television profits where his heart is: Theater
Times Staff Writer
Mark Linn-Baker leads a double life.
Television audiences know Linn-Baker as
the exasperated Larry on ABC's long-running sitcom "Perfect
Strangers." But in the theatrical community the Yale School of Drama
graduate is an accomplished actor, producer and director. He is the
co-founder of the New York Stage & Film Company, which collaborates with
more than 100 professionals to produce plays, short films and videos during the
summer at New York's Vassar College.
New York Stage's most successful venture
was "Tru," Jay Presson Allen's one-man show about author Truman
Capote, which later enjoyed a successful Broadway engagement and national
tour. Robert Morse won the Tony for his performance.
"That was sort of a marvelous
production," the shy, soft-spoken actor said recently over drinks at a
Beverly Hills hotel bar.
Economics was one reason that Linn-Baker,
38, and his partners founded New York Stage in the mid-80's. "We
found ourselves doing theater in increasingly difficult economic times," he
said. "It was just harder and harder in New York to get a theater
project off the ground. Unless you are running at 95% capacity, you are
probably losing money. That is an incredible figure!"
Many wonderful plays were falling through
the cracks because they had no mass appeal "but have an interest within the
theatrical community," he said. "But that interest is not enough
to keep it running and not worry about losing a fortune. So we, as many
other people, looked for some sort of solution to that problem. We decided
to try to produce outside of New York City."
Linn-Baker helps finance the New York
Stage with some of his "Perfect Strangers" salary. "The
theater is not a money-making endeavor by any means, but fortunately, because I
have been able to make more than a decent living doing television, I have been
able to support my own theater to a certain extent."
Each summer, the theater produces three
plays on the main stage theater and conducts play readings on a smaller
stage. "We bring up a professional company every summer,"
Linn-Baker said. "We've had Christine Lahti, Carol Kane, Patty Wettig,
Ken Olin, myself -- a very high caliber of professionals."
Last year, Linn-Baker and his partners
expanded into motion pictures and formed Tru Pictures. Their goal is not
only to produce feature films, but also to use the profits to support the
theater. Tru Pictures recently finished production on a comedy, "Me
and Veronica," with Elizabeth McGovern and Patricia Wettig. The
independently financed film does not yet have a distributor. This spring,
Tru signed a deal with Warner Bros. to develop features.
"This was our first year of seriously
pursuing it and we were very fortunate," Linn-Baker said, smiling.
Linn-Baker, who made an auspicious film
debut in the 1982 comedy "My Favorite Year," said he has always loved
to do comedy. "I think my family has a sense of humor," he
said. "I always enjoyed it in the theater and the great silent
films. Comedy is drama but with better timing."
The actor said it is his perfect comedic
timing with his "Strangers" co-star, Bronson Pinchot, which has kept
the series fresh over the past six seasons. "We really enjoy working
together," he said. "We just get down and wail with some funny
bits. We come up with a lot of the physical stuff that happens."
Though never a darling of the critics,
Linn-Baker said the series has "very quietly held its own for years and
years and years." ("Perfect Strangers" will be back for a
seventh season, but with no return date set. When ABC announces its fall
schedule, the network relegated the sitcom to back-up series status.)
Linn-Baker said he believes critics have
missed the essence of the series.
"I am biased, of course, but I don't
think there is anyone else doing what we do on television, which is major
physical comedy," he said. "It is not just done and we do
it. I think we do it as well as it has been done. I think it will
run forever in syndication because there is not anything else like it except
'The Honeymooners' or 'I Love Lucy.' I think we are in that league."
Still, he admitted he was surprised the
series took off.
"We were running for three years
before I thought we might keep going," he said. "We did the
first six mid-season episodes and I thought, 'This is a great opportunity.
We will do six and we will all go home.' Then we got picked up for a
year. And then we got picked up for another year and I thought,
'Amazing. We will all do this and go home.' And then we got picked
up for the third year and I realized, 'Oh, my God. This is going to
Strangers" airs Fridays at 9:30 p.m. on ABC. Repeats air Saturdays at
5 p.m. on KCAL.