The Key to Successful TV Shows and Movies from Mark Gordon

Photo by Margie Barron

Mark Gordon.

The prolific film and TV producer Mark Gordon has made an impact in the industry today. Among his top television series are Grey’s Anatomy, Criminal Minds, and Army Wives. Plus he has made his mark theatrically with motion pictures that have brought in more than $2 billion at the box-office thanks to such blockbusters as Saving Private Ryan, The Day After Tomorrow, The Patriot, Speed, and over a dozen more.

This summer Gordon added a terrific little comedy to his list of productions, Family Tools on ABC. It stars Kyle Bornheim as a super-likable, but hapless fellow who returns home to help his dad (the always great J.K. Simmons) in the family handyman business. Leah Remini, Edi Gathegi, and Danielle Nicolet also star, helping the fix-it fellows. The show deserved more attention than it got, because it’s just a good old-fashioned sitcom with great characters.

Success usually lies with “the development of great characters, bringing out their humanity in interesting stories whether in dramas or comedies,” Gordon told us when we talked with him at the Family Tools launch. Another key to the tremendous success of the Mark Gordon Company, he reported, “We have great partners, great creators, great executive producers, and great showrunners. It’s always about the people you bring in, starting with the writers. We (the company) are producers not writers. Both in the films that we make and the television shows — it’s the writers. And I was lucky enough to get into business with Shonda Rhimes. She is Grey’s Anatomy, the heart and soul of that show.”

Developing projects is the fun part he noted. “We don’t try to look at the audience and say ‘what is it that they want?’ We say ‘what do we love?’ then hope they like it. We’ve had some good fortune over the years, but I think it starts with loving the ideas from the writers, and then trying to make them special.”

A man who enjoys what he does, Gordon said he is “absolutely a hands-on producer with all our projects. I’m involved in the marketing, developing scripts, dealing with directors, and spending a lot of time in the editing room.” He always seems to have a handful of movies and TV shows going on at the same time, and he revealed the secret to juggling them all “is having wonderful people in our company who oversee all the shows. I’m not there every day, so there are dedicated people doing these shows. I consider it my good fortune to be surrounded with the best people, and then let them do their jobs.”

But the Mark Gordon Company has his name on the door, so when his personal attention is needed he makes sure he communicates the old-fashioned way. “I don’t go in for video conferences. I know I can’t be in five or six places at once. I like to use the telephone. I use e-mail, like everybody else, but it’s best to communicate through the phone. We’ve gotten so far away from dialogue. Everything in the e-mail is monologue. There’s less opportunity to make the connection, so I try to talk to the people as much as I can. Then you have to trust the dedicated people that you work with to get the job done. Obviously, newer high tech tools allow you to do more things, but things haven’t changed that much about what’s really important, which is communicating ideas.”

Gordon’s productions have included acclaimed HBO movies such as And Starring Poncho Villa as Himself and Warm Springs. Among other notable productions, TV and movies, over the years are Broken Arrow, The Jackal, Virus, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Hostage, The Hoax, 10,000 B.C., 2012, Reaper, and Private Practice.

Revealing that he has a number of movie projects that he’s working on now, Gordon said, “At Regency we have Empire that we’re excited about. We’re doing a thriller set in China called Bullet Train. And there are a number of other movies and TV pilots in development. I’m working hard with good people.”

That work has given Gordon pride in his entertainment legacy so far. He explained, “I hope if people bother to look at the body of work I’ve done that they will see it’s a diverse group of films and television shows that are high quality and strike an emotional core and makes us think. Those are the kinds of things I aspire to make.”

All in a day’s work for Mark Gordon, who is also the president of the Producers Guild of America.

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