Sunday, January 12, 2014

On Call, Vol. 2, No. 3 - From the Personnel Department - Profile: Mark Tinker - Wise Guy With a Heart

From On Call: The Official Newsletter of the St. Elsewhere Appreciation Club, volume 2, number 3, December 1998.

He was born into television royalty, yet had to make his own success. His work is very public, yet he maintains a low profile. He is boisterous, yet quiet, and sardonic yet sensitive. These and other incongruities are why John Tinker lovingly boasts of his brother, "There's nobody like Mark."

Grant's Gang - Jodie, Mike, Mark, John

Mark Tinker was born in 1951 to mother, Ruth, and legendary television genius Grant Tinker. The oldest of four children, Mark and his siblings: Mike (born 1952), Jodie (1954), and baby brother John (1958) grew up in Darian, Connecticut not far from New York City on Long Island Sound.

RUTH TINKER FRICKE ... "Mark always had a good work ethic, I never had to tell him to do his homework."

JODIE TINKER DeLELLA ... "He was really good in school, he got good grades."

RUTH TINKER FRICKE ... "He watched Howdy Doody and Soupy Sales, but he would not sit there like the kids do today and watch cartoons. We would watch cartoons during supper, because it made the kids eat faster (laughs)."

And the faster they ate, the faster they could get back to the family pastime - sports.

JOHN TINKER ... "Mark played Little League and Babe Ruth when he was very young. I remember swimming. All of us swam on the swim team. And I remember Mark as a very good swimmer. He was very slight, I mean, a good gust of wind would put him across the field."

RUTH TINKER FRICKE ... "He loved athletics, he played baseball, but not football because he was too skinny."

And though skinny, Mark overcame his size to excel in many sports. What he couldn't quite overcome, though, was the divorce of his parents.

GRANT TINKER ... "We lived in Connecticut and I worked in New York - the commuting wasn't very good for the marriage (or the kids). It meant that I left early in the morning before they were up, and got home at night frequently after they had gone to bed. So I had far too little time with them, and I feel like I was sort of an absentee father. I used to spend far too much time working and far too little time doing the more valuable things."

Grant and Ruth's divorce in 1961 was amicable, but the break-up hit eleven-year-old Mark very hard.

RUTH TINKER FRICKE ... "I do think it affected him more (than the other kids). He missed his father terribly."

JODIE TINKER DeLELLA ... "I remember not too long after my Dad left, going to see Mark in the hospital. He had an ulcer and he was so thin. I remember it was Easter, and he couldn't have any candy, of course. He was just so small and skinny in that little bed, it really affected me. I think a lot of stuff was on those little shoulders."

Bouncing back, young Mark assumed a leadership role with his siblings, and that sometimes included various "exchanges" with brother Mike.

JOHN TINKER ... "I think the turning point in the physical relationship between Mike and Mark, as I understand the family lore, was a fight that took place when Mark was around 12. They were in a closet, the door was shut, and they were banging each other around. And, in the process, Michael nearly bit his own tongue off while biting Mark."

ON CALL ... "This was Mike Tinker or Mike Tyson?"

JOHN TINKER ... "Right. That was Mike Tinker letting Mark know that he had arrived. There was another fight years later where someone ended up throwing an alarm clock at the other. And that was the end, the big heavy alarm clock. And it flew the distance, the width of the house, so it really picked up speed, and that was that (laughs)."

MIKE TINKER ... "I always sort of remember him winning that round as well as he did most of the time when we were growing up. I think maybe then he realized I wasn't going to take any more s--t from him (laughs). I think he realized I wasn't the pushover that I used to be. Every time he used to attack me I used to turn my back on him, and he'd always end up smacking me on the back (laughs)."

Mark also asserted himself outside the immediate family circle.

RUTH TINKER FRICKE ... "He was a prankster, he had a special gang called the 'MX', and they were always putting cars on roofs, and throwing the town gates into Long Island Sound. He had borrowed his stepfather's car, and we got a call from the police saying 'Your son is down here'."

ON CALL ... "What did MX stand for?"

RUTH TINKER FRICKE ... "I was afraid to ask (laughs). He wouldn't tell me anyway."

JOHN TINKER ... "'Gang' is making it sound a little more dangerous than it was. I don't think a gang member in Darian even remotely...(Callling) MX a 'gang' would make a lot of people laugh."

But by the time Mark turned fourteen, no one was laughing.

Secret Agent & Siblings -
Jodie, Mike, Ritchie, John
GRANT TINKER ... "He had become quite a handful for his mother just in the way kids do sometimes, and so Ruth shipped him out here to live with us (Mary Tyler Moore and son Ritchie) for a year, and he went to school out here for a year."

While in California, Mark began to develop more of an interest in the television business (Grant was then pulling his first stint at NBC), and he also discovered a creative talent for writing.

MIKE TINKER ... "Mark used to send me the most amazing stories about a secret agent called Adrian Black, they were just astoundingly good."

MARY TYLER MOORE ... "It was clear from the time that he was a teenager that Mark had an ability with ideas and words. It was a matter of honing those beginnings which he did later on."

Mildly rehabilitated after having spent time with his Dad, and buoyed by a burgeoning interest in media, Mark returned to Connecticut where he was, according to Mike, a "real ladies man". "Casanova" Tinker graduated high school, then it was on to Syracuse University to study Communications, which he called "a complete waste of time". Nevertheless, he was ready to get out and apply his talents in the real world.


Following graduation from college in 1973, Mark married his first wife Rosemary, and pursued his other love - television.

MIKE TINKER ... "I remember a toast I did at Mark and Rosemary's wedding, and I think he was really mad at me at the time. I said, 'Here's to Mark and Rosemary, they'll be happy together because they have one very important thing in common. They're both in love with Mark (laughs). But (seriously) Mark liked himself in a good way, in a way so that you make yourself better."

And Mark WAS making himself better, and he was willing to start at the bottom to do it. His first job in the "business" was as a graphics operator for the local CBS television station in Los Angeles. Soon, he landed a job as a gopher at Lorimar.

MARK TINKER ... "They were a small company and (at first) their only program was The Waltons. In 1973 Lee Rich and Merv Adleson were running it, and they were all in one little building. All I was trying to do was learn the business and what happened was the next logical step for a person who thinks they want to be a producer, is to learn about post-production. So I started to learn, and there was this guy Vic, who was cutting sound for them. He was a sound editor, and at lunch time when they were dubbing The Waltons, I'd go and watch and pay attention, and by osmosis pick up some stuff, and he'd explain things to me. (Then), he'd go out and get hammered, come back drunk and pass out, so the dubbing people would look to me for answers. That was fortuitous for me."

ON CALL ... "And so it was 'Good night John Boy?'"

MARK TINKER ... "And 'Good night, Vic.' He was a great guy though. So I learned about post-production and I also worked on some other series they had, like Doc Elliott and Apples Way (with St. Elsewhere's Ronny Cox), so I did all sorts of things from second A.D. to location scouting. I also did all sorts of things from second A.D. to location scouting. I also did location for a movie of the week (The Rivermen, starring Nick Nolte). That was my first distant location in Mississippi in December, and I got cold. (During that time I was a slug for two years, I wasn't asking for any help from my old man, and I'm sure he didn't want to give it.)"* (*from Rolling Stone Magazine, June 18, 1987)

But soon, Mark would be brought in from the cold, and end up at the Old Man's doorstep again.


By 1976 MTM was dominating the network television scene with comedies and dramas. Grant Tinker was running MTM and Arthur Price was his number two guy in charge of day-to-day operations.

ARTHUR PRICE ... "Mark was working at Lorimar and going nowhere, and wanted to get out of there, and I knew about that. Grant had a rule, he didn't want any nepotism. He was the only one who had kids old enough, I didn't have any, and the other people there all had little children. He didn't want any hiring of family. We actually needed a location manager, and I said to Mark, 'Why don't you come on over here?' We actually hid Mark for about two weeks (laughs) until I could run it past Grant at an appropriate moment."

ON CALL ... "So Mark was a stowaway?"

ARTHUR PRICE ... "Kind of, if you can be a stowaway on land, yeah."

ON CALL ... "What was Grant's reaction when you finally told him?"

ARTHUR PRICE ... "(Laughs) He kinda gave me a strange look. I vaguely remember standing when I told him, so I could leave in a hurry (laughs)."

ON CALL ... "But you obviously saw something in Mark?"

ARTHUR PRICE ... "I knew he was good at what he did. First of all, the relationship between us and Lorimar was very close, so I knew what Mark was doing. If I had heard bad reports about him at Lorimar, I would not have hired him."

ON CALL ... "What did you see in Mark's potential?"

ARTHUR PRICE ... "I don't know, you have to go with gut instinct. I just saw something and said, 'We're going to do this, and I'll figure out what to do with Grant afterwards' (laughs)."

MARY TYLER MOORE ... "I'll tell you something. Grant Tinker is so afraid of the word nepotism, that he almost put up barriers to his children succeeding in the business. He never wanted to be associated with anybody who was getting a step-up for free. So all the wonderful contributions that both Mark and John have made come from them, and not from any entre that their father got for them."

Making a joke, Mark once commented, "We had our names CHANGED to Tinker so everyone would think we were related."

GRANT TINKER ... "In the case of both Mark and John, they went to work in other places, in Mark's place, Lorimar... he paid his dues elsewhere, so it never really occurred to me (that it was nepotism). I would normally be very sensitive to that. I think that can be a very real problem."

But it wasn't a problem. Soon after his arrival at MTM, Mark was assigned to The Bob Newhart Show, and given the title of Associate Producer.

ARTHUR PRICE ... "Well it was a place to put him for the moment, until later on we found a job that dealt more with his talents."

ON CALL ... "What did Mark show you in the early days at MTM that convinced you, your decision to hire him had been right?"

ARTHUR PRICE ... "The biggest thing was that he didn't get into any trouble (laughs). When you're dealing with a lot as small as ours was it was kind of hard not to have everybody know what you were doing. So when somebody screwed up, bells went off real fast. The best thing about Mark was I never had to go down to the stage and say 'Let's sit down and have a chat'."

BOB NEWHART ... "I think Mark arrived in 1976 because it was the same year that Dick Martin joined us as Creative Consultant on the show. I didn't get to see that much of Mark because a lot of his stuff was post-production, and it was all done in the editing phase. But he wanted to learn the business, and that's the best place to learn it, you know, 'Why a director takes a particular shot? - Why he uses one shot and not another? - Has he covered enough or not enough?' All those things are learned in the editing phase. Mark directed one of our shows I think in the last year of The Bob Newhart Show. And then he went on to The White Shadow, St. Elsewhere, and so on. with all the Emmy nominations and all the Emmys he's won, obviously that is a recognition by your peers for your work, and he has so many, that it's an ultimate tribute to the quality of his work."

Soon, Mark's talents were noticed by Bruce Paltrow who needed a Producer/Director for his new series The White Shadow. Clearly, Mark was fast becoming an MVP at MTM. About that time, younger brother John was vacillating on whether to stay in college or strike out and try HIS hand at television. Suddenly, Mark became a mentor to John.

JOHN TINKER ... "I was having a lousy time (at college) and just didn't want to be there, and wanted to be out working. I would call Mark incessantly and try and convince him that I should be out of school. He was the one who kept intoning over and over, 'Stay in school, have a great time... you should really be enjoying yourself, it's the time of your life.' I DID listen to him, and I graduated."

In 1981, Paltrow, Steven Bochco, John Falsey, Josh Brand, and Mark were scurrying around to ready a new hospital drama (see ON CALL, Vol. 1, No. 1), and in 1982 St. Elsewhere was on the air. John had graduated from Middlebury College, and, like Mark had done eight years earlier, he went to work for Lorimar as a gopher.

JOHN TINKER ... "My recollection is that Mark called me. I finished working on Knots Landing on Friday, and I started working the following Monday on St. Elsewhere, and I believe it was all Mark's doing."

Now divorced from Rosemary, his father off to run NBC, and John on staff, Mark focused on making St. Elsewhere the best program on television. Mark was Paltrow's second in command on St. Elsewhere, but in addition to producing, he also became the show's most prolific director.

TOM FONTANA ... "Not being a director myself, you come to depend on directors to really make your vision come to life. We would literally, Maish, and John Tinker and I would literally write shows for Mark to direct. In the same way we would write a story for Bill Daniels or Ed Flanders because we knew their range and their power. The same is true with Mark. We knew we could write him the most challenging stuff that we could come up with, and he would deliver. I mean, you look at the shows that he did - the specialty shows, the dream one (AFTER LIFE, episode 101), and TIME HEALS (episodes 85 & 86), you don't write those kind of scripts blind and just say, 'Geez, I hope we get somebody good to direct this'."

ON CALL ... "How can a viewer tell if a particular show was directed by Mark?"

TOM FONTANA ... "Well I tell you, in my mind, you can tell Mark directed it because you feel like no one directed it. It's about not seeing his thumb prints all over the lens. I think that is still true of Mark. His work is seamless, honest, and it's visible, and that's the best kind of director there is."

Sense & Sensitivity - Mark Directing
WILLIAM DANIELS ... "I'll go out on a limb and say Mark was our best director overall, that's been my experience. He had a very active camera, a very good, moving camera, and he loved doing it. He's very simpatico with actors, and lets you go with it."

ED BEGLEY, JR. ... "Mark is one of those rare directors who had such a keen visual sense - such a great feel for the camera as well as a deep understanding of what an actor needs, you know, the organic needs of an actor to make a scene true, to make a scene real. And that's why he's gone on to do such wonderful work since St. Elsewhere. He's just a huge, huge talent, and I'm proud to also call him a friend."

ALLAN BURNS (co-creator Mary Tyler Moore, Lou Grant) ... "I don't know of anybody better directing episodic television. Mark's work is seamless." (from Rolling Stone)

BONNIE BARTLETT DANIELS ... "Mark was probably our favorite director on the show. Bill and I liked working with him. And he handled a lot of the shows that were very sensitive, about our boy dying, and so forth. We both liked him as a director, because he lets you alone, but he trusts you. And he trusts you to make the right choices. He rarely steps in, and he's very sensitive talking about it. We had some very good conversations, and one day I had a scene where Ellen was going to her son's closet, and taking all of his stuff out. It was a very, very emotional scene, and I had to stay with it for a long time. Mark was very sensitive to that, and he didn't want to interfere with the process, what I was going through. And yet, he obviously had to film it, and so I think he's very good at that, staying out of the way of what you're working on, and yet getting it filmed."

As his own star was rising at MTM, Mark continued his role as mentor to John, and promoted his little brother to the writing staff of St. Elsewhere toward the end of the first season.

Mark & John Tinker
JOHN TINKER ... "I chose writing, I guess I though that would be the most fun. Also, I never really thought much about it, but Mark was directing and doing a damn good job of it, so I was probably a little bit intimidated by Mark, and I probably feared treading there. It was almost in a way like a step parent, where you can have that unique relationship, where they're not a parent, and they're not a friend. In Mark, he wasn't a boss and he wasn't a co-worker. He was something quite unique. I would go to him for advice, and go and bounce things off him." The brothers soon collaborated on an episode titled, appropriately, BROTHERS (episode 17), in which Mark not only directed, but co-wrote."

JOHN TINKER ... "It was the first time I wrote a script, I had written scenes up to then. Mark's half of the script was about 118 pages long, and he said, 'Here, cut it' (laughs)."


Mark won his first and only Emmy for St. Elsewhere in 1988 as the series was coming to a close (see ON CALL,Volume 2, Number 1). He then joined Paltow and Fontana in a production company which churned out a number of pilots and series, including Tattingers. 1988 was also the year Mark wed Kris Harmon, the actress and artist formerly married to Ricky Nelson, and sister of St. Elsewhere's Mark Harmon.

KRIS HARMON TINKER ... "My brother Mark (Harmon) said Mark Tinker was the best director around. And this is before I knew him. Mark said, 'He's the best director around and I don't know why you guys don't get together.' And then he said the same thing to Mark Tinker, except he didn't say I was the best director (laughs), he just said we were perfect for each other."

ON CALL ... "What attracted you to Mark Tinker?"

Kris & Mark: Please don't squeeze the Harmon
KRIS HARMON TINKER ... "His energy and his sense of humor, and he's got a great butt (laughs). The first time he walked away from me I said, 'That's a great butt!' (laughs)"

ON CALL ... "Wasn't that a sexist thought?'

KRIS HARMON TINKER ... "Oh God, I hadn't thought of that. I think Mark would probably love it though."

TOM FONTANA ... "No I was always attracted to his adorable little moustache (laughs). It was a great tragedy the day that he shaved that moustache."

ON CALL ... "Did Mark become more creative after he shaved off the moustache?"

TOM FONTANA ... "No, but he became more creative the more hair that he lost. His baldness is in direct connection to his creative juices. It's like a Samson thing, except in reverse (laughs)."

There must be some validity to Fontana's "Follicle Theory". Mark's work kept getting better and better, and by 1993, Steven Bochco tapped him as Producer/Director for NYPD Blue, and later, to helm the pilot for Brooklyn South. He won Emmys for both series. Earlier this year during his acceptance speech for his Brooklyn South win, Mark paid tribute to his brother Mike, a real life police detective, long time veteran of the LAPD, and former childhood sparring partner.

MIKE TINKER ... "I was really surprised. I thought it was great. From time to time he would ask me about my work, I've given him some ideas. It was actually very nice, but really surprising. In fact, I told him right before I went to the show, I said, 'If you win, give me the high sign, you know, like the old Little Rascals sign, the finger wave under the chin (laughs)', and he certainly did more than that."

Not worried with perceptions of nepotism as his dad had been years earlier, Mark and his brothers have managed to cross-utilize family talent. Mike has worked for both John and Mark having appeared on NYPD Blue and Chicago Hope. Meanwhile, Tom Fontana would like to rekindle HIS working relationship with Mark.

TOM FONTANA ... "The reality of the situation is he was working for Bochco about the same time we started doing Homicide, so he's never been free to be able to come East and work with me. The truth is, I would love him to come do an Oz episode because I know he likes the show, and I know his wife likes the show, and I also think that he would bring something very special to it."

Perhaps Mark will find his way to Oz in the near future, but, for now, he is focused on breathing new life into NYPD as it faces a major cast change. And while directing is a serious business, Mark never takes himself too seriously, and that quality has a positive effect on everyone with whom he works.

KRIS HARMON TINKER ... "He bring a sense of camaraderie and joy to the set, he loosens everybody up, where they all work much better together and the result is in the finished product."

And Mark is easy to work with because he maintains a great sense of humor, where anyone is a potential victim of his practical jokes.

TOM FONTANA ... "I am not a big practical joke person, though I am the most susceptible of all people, and especially when it comes to Mark, though I can't say that he's ever done anything that has given me permanent damage, but every time he calls me, he calls and pretends he's somebody else. And I always fall for it. A couple of weeks ago he called me and I was in my hotel in L.A., and he called and said he was the head of room service, and what was my problem with the two bottles of champagne that I had. And I said, 'Well I don't have two bottles of champagne,' and he said, 'Well then why did you call me?' And I'm like, 'I think you have the wrong room.' And he says, 'I don't have the wrong room, this is Tom Fontana, right?' And he kept this going for three minutes, and when he told me it was him, I was devastated (laughs)."

The Tinker Dynasty -
Mark, Jake, John, Grant, Mike
Today Mark and Kris are about to experience full-fledged empty nest syndrome as their youngest (Jake) completes his college career. Kris's kids have already flown the nest, but they have done so knowing that Mark cared for them greatly.

KRIS HARMON TINKER ... "He's a phenomenal father."

And so, the skinny kid who weathered his parents' divorce and worked his way up the TV ladder is the same man who made certain that his families at home and work were loved and supported. He fought his battles with Mike, yet took time to teach him how to drive. He helped give brother John a shot at the big time. He can tell a politically incorrect joke, then turn around and show a deep, honest sensitivity to those who depend on him professionally and personally.

JOHN TINKER ... "There's nobody like Mark. It's sort of the catch-all phrase for all of us, whenever Mark does something admirable, stupid, funny, smart, he just does it in a way that makes us all say 'There's nobody like Mark' (laughs)."

TOM FONTANA ... I think that's the measure of Mark's genius. That he is the sum of a lot of different parts, and he knows where to channel those parts. When he's sitting in a bar with a bunch of guys, he's one thing. When he's on the set directing a very sensitive scene, he's another part of himself. He's got such great spirit on the set and off the set, that I think that's probably the singular, consistent part of him. And he makes work seem like fun, and still is able to manage to break your heart (with a scene) when he needs to."

Sensitive, and a great butt, too! There really is nobody like Mark.

Originally produced by Longworth Communications.

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