Rockford Files: An Interview with Mark Horowitz:
By Jim Suva
I recently had the opportunity to interview Mark Horowitz. Mark has produced and directed a number of TV shows over the years. He worked on The Rockford Files Series and TV Movies, JAG, Doogie Howser, M.D., Spenser: For Hire, Bret Maverick, Almost Grown, The L Word, and NCIS, to name a few.
Where were you born and raised?
I was born and raised in Los Angeles.
When did you get interested in the entertainment industry?
My Grandfather was a Prop man in movies and TV and my father was a Prop Man and Set Decorator for series like The Monkees, The Partridge Family, and Police Story. I actually grew up in Burbank, a few blocks from what was called Columbia Ranch where Dad worked. He later moved to the Warner Bros lot which was also close by, so he would take me to work with him as a young boy. When I was nine, my parents took me out of school to go on location with him to the desert out side Las Vegas. He was working on the movie "They Came from Cordura" with Gary Cooper and Rita Hayworth. The magic of it all and the family feeling on the set between everyone, crew and actors really had a positive effect on me. I can clearly remember right then thinking, I want to work in this business when I grow up. Never considered any other possibilities after that.
How did you get your start in the industry?
I read everything I could find about movies and movie making (which wasn’t that much back then) I started making 8mm and super 8 movies with my friends at school. I learned that I enjoyed editing a lot. After a couple of years at Los Angeles City College, I emigrated to Australia where I started working full time in various post production jobs including film labs as well as continuing to make small films and documentaries of my own.
In 1976 I returned to Los Angeles, at a time when television production was really booming and got a job at Universal Studios as an apprentice film editor. It was an amazing place to be, more like a factory then what I had imagined, but surrounded by so many talented people and so much going on. The truth is, I would have paid Universal to work there, it was so much fun. I used to call it “Universal University."
How did you get your job on The Rockford Files?
In 1977 I got a job as the Assistant Film Editor on the Rockford Files for a wonderful editor named George Rhors. It was the beginning of the 4th season, and Rockford was considered the best show on the lot to work on.
George taught me so much and I would cut scenes for the episodes in order to improve my editing skills. If one of the producers said they liked a scene I had edited, George would always give me the credit.
Steve Cannell, Meta Rosenberg, Juanita Bartlette, David Chase and Charles Johnson made up the entire Producing team. They were all so smart, funny and kind. In a time before streaming video, DVDs or even video cassettes, when the producers wanted to see the previous days filming or watch the most recent edit of an episode, they would all have to come and watch it together in one of the small theaters at the studio. For me, it was a daily "master class" in how to produce a successful television show. I would listen to the conversations, “What to do about a director that was having problems finishing the day on time", or "How to fix an actor’s performance that wasn’t up to snuff". Unlike other producers I had worked with, there was never any yelling or screaming, they were all incredibly wonderful people. I have come to learn, that kind of attitude trickles down from the top, and at the top of our group was James Garner. He really was the most amazing guy, so talented, so thoughtful. He really cared about the crew and cast and again it was that "family feeling" that I found I would look for and try to create later in life when I became a producer.
You have been a film editor, producer and director. Is there a favorite of these that you really enjoy doing?
By the time Rockford ended, I had gotten to know the producers well. Meta and David were going on to do a MOW [movie of the week] called “Off the Minnesota Strip”. They called me into the office and offered me one of two positions. One was to be the Editor on the movie, the other was to become the Associate Producer, in charge of post production. It was a difficult choice at the time but I choose the Associate Producer position. It allowed me to continue to grow and learn even more than before. Directing is something I do once or twice a season. It forces me to “put on a different cap” and be creative in a different way, its challenging to do well. I think I love the job I do now the best, especially since I get to do it with my dear friend Charles Johnson.
Any favorite story about working on Rockford or about James Garner/Stephen Cannell?
James Garner was originally cast to play Gibbs' (Mark Harmon’s) father here on NCIS. He came to our cast read through the day before we were going to start filming the episode. He was great at the read through and everyone on this show was so excited to meet him and be able to work with him. Sadly, later that afternoon, he had what we think was a small stroke, and we got the call that he wasn’t going to be able to do the part. We had to recast at the last minute and were lucky to have Ralph Waite come in to play Gibbs' dad. However, I often think how much fun it would have been to have Jim with us one more time.
One fun fact. With one exception (Doogie Howser) I have been lucky enough to worked with one or more of the six people in the photo above, on every show I have worked on, for almost 40 years. That’s what I guess I mean by “family."
As a tribute to James Garner the license plates on Gibbs' Challenger had the same plate number as Rockford's Firebird. See picture below.
Here is a picture of Mark with Charles Floyd Johnson, by the NCIS van from the latest show.