If you are a regular or even sporadic Hallmark network viewer, you have more than likely heard of their new show airing this weekend (August 14) called Chesapeake Shores, based on the beloved book series of the same name by Sherryl Woods. The discussion of this show has sparked all sorts of impassioned discussions for several months now–some blissfully positive and some categorically negative. In my quest to learn as much about this show as possible, I had the supreme privilege of interviewing John Tinker, the show runner (more about that in the body of the interview). If you are curious about the show (or really, even if you’re not), please read the well-crafted answers John gave to fan questions about the show as well as some of the concerns that I know have been raised by cautious Hallmark viewers.
RH: How did you get started in the entertainment industry?
JT: I got started in the entertainment industry after being influenced by my father and brother. My father, Grant Tinker, among other things, founded and ran MTM Entertainment (with his then-wife Mary Tyler Moore) and later ran the NBC television network–at the time, a distant third-place network. My father brought NBC back to number one in short order with shows such as Hill Street Blues, Cheers, and The Cosby Show. My brother has worked more often than not directly on such shows as NYPD Blue, Deadwood, and most recently Chicago PD.
How did you get involved with Chesapeake Shores? What do you like about working for the Hallmark network?
My manager, Stan Spry, told me that Hallmark was looking to make a new series, a multi-generational family drama, and he wondered whether I would be interested – and immediately, I told him I was. There are not a lot of places making or airing family dramas. The TV horizon is populated with alternative reality/superhero/fantasy/other-world shows, and that isn’t typically what I enjoy writing. I mostly enjoy writing characters and relationships… though I have written procedurals such as Chicago Hope and The Practice. However, those shows had a heavy emphasis on character, as well.
I’ve enjoyed working with the folks at Hallmark. While some might feel what they program is anachronistic, I find what they produce and air to be rather bold. They’ve taken a proud stand to do shows about the human condition and relationships all while maintaining a bottom line of standards and decency they deem appropriate. Hallmark should be commended for this – and, encouragingly, Hallmark is being rewarded in viewership. There is a large, underappreciated and under-recognized portion of the United States that is thirsty for programming like that shown on the Hallmark Channel.
Many people have asked what a “show runner” is and what duties are involved. Could you please enlighten us?
A television show runner is typically a writer who oversees the day-to-day running of a show; everything from casting to production to editing… A show runner is an orchestrator, really. But he or she never does it alone. Personally, I like to show run with a director (in the case of Chesapeake Shores, Martin Wood). In this kind of arrangement, Martin and I can spell each other with various duties if one of us is busy or unavailable. The making of television moves at a breakneck pace. Typically, it takes seven or so days to shoot a single 55-page script episode, a few more weeks to edit, and a few more to put it through other post-production processes (sound effects, music and such). And then, it airs! One after another after another. A show runner needs to be able to juggle many tasks at once, not just writing. But it’s a terrific job if you’re working on a show where you don’t mind working a 90+ hour work week… and then some. Of course, it takes more than just me. Directors, production designers, accountants, production assistants – you name the craftsperson. It can be a grueling job for everyone that’s made rewarding when making a show in which you truly believe.
What changes can we expect from the pilot to the series?
The only real change from the pilot will be the locations. The way the pilot movie was shot (in which I was not involved) proved incredibly impractical and nearly impossible to do in series. That circumstance provided us with the great opportunity to do better than the pilot when it came to where we shot the O’Brien house, Jess’ B&B, Trace’s cabin, and the town of Chesapeake Shores. The pilot has some beautiful locations. The series locations are stunning.
Did you read any of the books before joining the series?
I familiarized myself with the Chesapeake Shores book series and became more than acquainted with the people and place – both of which fans know is at the heart of Sherryl Woods’ marvelous creation. Oh, and not unimportantly, I spoke with Sherryl. And not just at the outset, but all along through the production process. She received drafts of each script and edits of each show. Most often, she and I would email one another about any questions or issues – or, in the rare instance, we talked by phone. After all, Shores is her baby, and although she has proven to be more than understanding and knowledgeable when it comes to the presentation of a TV series (as opposed to a book series), I not only wanted to be respectful of what she’s written – it is to the show’s advantage!
A big concern seems to be Barbara Niven’s character, Megan O’Brien. What would you say to fans who are concerned they may not like her because she “abandoned” her children?
First, I would say that calling what Megan did as “abandonment” is not only unfair but judgmental as well. Megan loves her children, deeply… and always has. It will come to light that Megan did what “she had to do” when it came to her leaving Chesapeake Shores. In hindsight, does Megan feel she made the “right choice”? That may not even be relevant for her – or the fans. What’s most important is, I believe, that for whatever the reason, Megan moved to New York some sixteen years ago and now is hoping to repair her relationships with her children, one by one. During the first season, I can tell you that the full “explanation” of why Megan left may not be completely put forth; that is, fully explained. [More on that later in the season as episodes air.] Still, I encourage fans and viewers alike to be patient with Megan and all of the Chesapeake Shores characters. The first season in particular is a gentle exploration of who these characters are and ultimately, where they might be going.
Please comment on the family-friendly nature of the show. Many viewers are still concerned this will be a soap opera brimming with sex and love triangles.
Let me break that down a bit. I don’t necessarily think calling a show a “soap opera” is pejorative. All of us on St. Elsewhere called that show a soap opera: a serialized program with interweaving storylines. It all comes down to how you do it. Now, “brimming with sex and love triangles”? No, no need for concern. Not only is that kind of thing not for me, I think we all know that it’s not for Hallmark (at least, not the Hallmark I know). There is, definitely, what we believe to be an honest exploration and examination of people and their relationships, but I don’t think that obviates the possibility of being “family friendly”.
And while we’re discussing the nature of Chesapeake Shores… I do think this show differs from just about anything else I’ve seen on the Hallmark Channel; that’s not a qualitative evaluation. However, as we explore the family unit (as well as friendships, community, and what have you), the narrative here will primarily be through emotion rather than plot or action. If we have additional seasons, plot and action will move closer to the fore, however, but will never eclipse the characters and what they’re experiencing.
Why do you believe this show will resonate with the viewers?
To begin, we were/are (at least at one time or another) sons/daughters/sisters/brothers/mothers/fathers/grandmothers/grandfathers… and so on. These are the greatest touch points for viewers. In addition, as we just spoke of, this show will trade in basic human emotion. And without getting too lofty, isn’t it Tolstoy who said, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”? It seems there is plenty of fodder when it comes to resonating with viewers. What’s more, if we strive to make this show one thing over all, it will be hopeful. Confident. Optimistic. And encouraging. To quote Psalms, “…weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”
Do you have a favorite character and/or storyline in the show? Or perhaps something that went better than you expected and blew you away?
Favorite character? That can change day-to-day. But I do, honestly, love writing for each character – because each actor on this show is so good and “gives back” more than they’re given. That’s what I think, anyway. This cast continually blows me away. It’s such a delight. Of course, there is one character for whom I least like writing… but I should keep that to myself… and hope next time out, I can do better, I suppose. When it comes to characters/actors, I’m always finding new and different combinations that are terrifically satisfying. It’s so much fun. When it comes to storylines? Those change episode to episode so the best I can do is try helping find what’s most interesting given that particular story.
Besides Chesapeake Shores, do you have any other upcoming works you can mention?
There are a few things, yes, but if this show goes a second… third… fourth season… my heart would be in Chesapeake Shores.
While my fears have long since been ameliorated by various members of the cast and crew (Barbara Niven and Sherryl Woods were very instrumental in that), I know that many have trepidations and anxieties raised by various publications, fans, and past heartbreaks (cancellation of Cedar Cove is a major issue for some still). For me, this is the most forthright interview I’ve had the honor to conduct about this new series, and I appreciate John’s candid responses. As I put it, I didn’t mince words, and he didn’t either. There is no doubt in my mind about John’s fierce devotion to this series that has come to mean so much to him on many levels. I have seen the pilot, but I’m ecstatic to get beyond the pilot so we can begin to see the work of this man and the entire cast and crew who are so committed to bringing a phenomenal series to life with heart, soul, and sometimes very raw emotion. What family doesn’t have problems, after all? And on the vast majority of shows on the major networks, we are bombarded with negative ways of dealing with those family issues, Isn’t it nice to have an alternative where we can see a family working through these issues and trying to repair the long-standing wounds rather than ripping the family system to shreds? I cannot thank John enough for this unbelievable interview, and if I was excited before, I am literally bouncing off the ceiling with exhilaration now! Please tune in every Sunday night to the Hallmark Channel for the duration of this series (beginning this week August 14), and tune in with an open mind to the floodgate of possibilities this series has opened for Hallmark viewers. And while you’re doing that, be certain that you follow John at all the links below as he posts an incredible amount of information that all Chessies (fans of Chesapeake Shores) will want and need to know!
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