New day, sober outlook for Sacramento TV personality Mark S. Allen

Eight hours after Mark S. Allen resigned, on air, from his job with “Good Day Sacramento,” he faced a theater full of people at a Placerville film-industry event.

Allen’s March 11 “Good Day” announcement came after his second driving-under-the-influence arrest and subsequent removal from the show by Channel 31 (KMAX). When he agreed to speak at the El Dorado County film office’s annual mixer, he had not anticipated that his resignation – which closely followed his DUI case’s resolution – would fall on the same day.

Many people would have canceled. Holed up. Waited until the dust settled. Allen showed up, looking polished and sounding professional on one of the most rumpled days of his life.

He was honoring commitments, to the event and himself.

Before he regaled the audience with tales of covering the movie business, he addressed his December DUI and resignation. He urged anyone in the audience who might have a problem with alcohol to see him.

Last week, Allen extended similar invitations to fellow inmates at South Placer Jail, where he was spending 12 days as part of his DUI sentence. People recognize him there, he said by phone from the jail. He tries to use his fame for good.

“There are a tremendous amount of people who are here for that reason,” Allen said. “I am not preaching, but I certainly relate to them, and tell them my plans, and make sure they are pointed in the right direction.”

Allen, 51, completed a 30-day rehab program after he was arrested in the early morning of Dec. 4 by Roseville police. (His first DUI arrest happened in 2006 in Sacramento). He has been sober for more than 100 days, and in more ways than one.

His second DUI was “was arrogant (and) it was stupid, to say the least,” Allen said. “I will do everything I can to make sure it certainly won’t happen with me again. And I’ll do everything to make sure that people know drinking and driving is bad.”

Allen issued this particular apology in the living room of the Roseville home he shares with his wife and three teenage children, in an interview with The Sacramento Bee. But its content echoes his resignation and a video message he posted to fans on his Facebook page shortly after making it.

Allen’s almost-grave demeanor as he resigned contrasted starkly with the upbeat manner that made him seem, for the nearly 20 years he spent on “Good Day,” like coffee’s closest rival as a morning pick-me-up. The sight of Allen visibly struggling to say goodbye signaled, even more than his words, the end of an era that was light in tone but significant in its impact on the local media scene.

Allen, whose real name is Mark Allen Stell, has built a career on the surface. He interviews movie stars and answers most on-air dares in the affirmative. A few weeks after shark activity was reported in San Francisco Bay last year, he swam from bridge to bridge on camera. He’s iron-stomached his way through eating competitions, and owns a Guinness record for jalapeño consumption.

It is not a career that will be called “august,” even when he’s 80. But a two-decade run on one show, within an industry prone to station and market hopping, is remarkable. Though Allen has been off the air for three months, his continued popularity shows in the 229,000 views his Facebook video has drawn since he resigned.

“He is probably the biggest figure in Sacramento media,” said Howard Burd, a Roseville film producer and friend of Allen’s. Burd worked in ad sales for Channel 31 in the late 1990s, when ads for “Good Day” sold for peanuts, Burd said. Allen’s game-for-anything appeal helped the local-content show compete against network morning shows, he said.

“Everybody can get their news on local stations, but the difference is Mark’s personality,” Burd said.

Crowd pleaser

Allen’s on-air personality encompasses a degree of craft, honed on a national level in the 1990s as host of Comedy Central’s “Short Attention Span Theater” clip show – Jon Stewart preceded Allen and Marc Maron followed – that enables him to make things look easy that are not. Like generating lively responses from movie stars otherwise numbed by hearing the same questions from junket press members who arrive via turnstile.

“He’s just so congenial, and he makes you feel like you are part of what he is doing,” said Patty Borelli, a longtime “Good Day” watcher who attended the Placerville event. “There’s nothing ostentatious about it.”

Borelli, a Placerville City Council member and former mayor, still watches “Good Day,” but said she misses Allen.

Allen worked mornings on “Good Day,” afternoons at pop station 100.5 FM (KZZO) and somewhere in there, recorded the film-review and interview show “Mark at the Movies,” which started at CBS-owned KMAX but eventually went national on ReelzChannel. (All the gigs were tied to CBS and ended with Allen’s resignation).

Allen attended events for work but also lent his star wattage, while off duty, to other community gatherings, taking time at each to speak to fans who approached. Judging by the many Facebook posts that followed his resignation, his encounters with fans stuck. The guy who once fixed Allen’s son’s cellphone reached out, as did a man who worked at a gas station where Allen filled up.

“He has always been so kind,” said Stacey Hatten, 53, a longtime “Good Day” viewer who spoke to Allen at the California State Fair and at a “Yolo Idol” performance competition in Woodland.

In Woodland, “he went and talked to all of us” in the crowd between takes, Hatten said. “He didn’t have to do that.”

She joined a flurry of fans who reached out to Allen during the months when his future with Channel 31 appeared to be up in the air. A petition urging KMAX to bring back Allen drew more than 2,400 signatures before it was halted the day he resigned.

After his arrest, Allen went publicly silent, first to “go both feet in” at rehab, he said, and later, “out of respect for my employer and my family.” He was overwhelmed when he saw the postings that amassed in his absence.

“The outpouring from the public – I could start weeping right now,” Allen said.

“It’s rare that you lose someone in the public eye that the outcry is really visible,” said Capital Film Arts Alliance president Laurie Pederson, who watched Allen speak in Placerville. “With Mark, we have seen that.”

Burd, a producer on the forthcoming Julia Roberts-Jennifer Aniston film “Mother’s Day,” enlisted Allen to help produce another film project, about Nick Newell, an MMA fighter with one arm.

Allen does not have another broadcasting gig lined up. But opportunities have presented themselves and multiplied, he said, since he resigned.

His break from daily broadcasting allowed him to gain perspective.

“It’s the first time in 20 years I have stepped back to take a breath and figure out what I want to do,” Allen said. “Obviously, I want to keep a roof over my family’s head. But maybe to do so without the 14-hour days would be great.”

Allen said he would like to stay in the Sacramento region, where his children have grown up, and where he has “deep roots.”

He said he misses his “Good Day” colleagues, but that he’s spent more quality time with them since he left the show than when he was on it, because he was so busy then. Though KMAX management did not respond to The Bee’s requests for comment regarding Allen’s resignation, his “Good Day” news director, John Armand, was in the audience for the Placerville event.

What Allen misses more acutely is the “spontaneity” of being live on air.

“Someday, if Sacramento forgives me and would have me back, I would love to be on local TV again,” he said.

Serious problem

Allen used to cap busy work weeks with trips to movie junkets in L.A. or New York. But these trips, which lasted just long enough to see a film and snag an interview, were not glitzy affairs, and he did not party at them, he said.

What he calls drinking-related “incidents” happened when he had rare down time.

“If I got free time – which meant a block of four hours – and it happened to coincide with a celebration, and I knew that I could do it within the realm of responsibility, then it was a recipe for disaster,” he said. The “realm of responsibility” meant enough time to get rest before going to work again.

The night of his arrest, he hosted 100.5’s “Santa Slam” concert in Sacramento and visited a friend in Roseville. He was on his way home when he was arrested, after motorists reported a car driving erratically in the area of I-80 and Atlantic Street. Court documents indicate Allen’s blood-alcohol level was 0.15 or above at the time.

Allen pleaded no contest. In addition to the brief jail stint, he will pay a penalty of “thousands” of dollars, he said, and attend DUI classes for 18 months. The 2006 DUI figured in his sentence, he said.

That time, he was pulled over by Sacramento County sheriff’s deputies at Sacramento International Airport, where he had gone to drop off a friend. This time, he was alone.

He’s glad no one was harmed, he said.

“The real story is that people are victims of drunk driving accidents all the time,” he said. Though his jail stint is “definitely confinement,” Allen said, “it pales in comparison to the suffering of people who have been victims of drunk-driving accidents.”

He did not lose his sense of humor in jail. The fans he encountered there “are like a really good focus group,” he deadpanned. “I am getting good feedback on the product over the past 20 years.”

With the first DUI, “I knew I had made a serious mistake,” Allen said. Yet he did not believe he had a serious problem. “Many of the key answers (to questions) you have to ask yourself, of having a disease or even having a drinking problem, didn’t seem to quite fit at the time.”

But later, “it became a problem,” Allen said. He started “going bigger, more often” after his mother died last year. Though she had been ill, and her death was not unexpected, she was his only parent for more than 30 years. Her death walloped him, Allen said, partly because he had not properly grieved his dad’s death in 1983.

His father was in the oil-supply business in Odessa, Texas, where Allen attended Permian High School, immortalized in the 1990 nonfiction bestseller “Friday Night Lights,” which later was adapted into a film and TV series.

“It was an era and a geographical region where people just aren’t open, and you are taught just to dust yourself off and plow through,” Allen said.

But “people have had far worse things happen to them,” he added. “That’s no excuse for letting alcohol get out of control.”

He considered seeking help before the arrest, he said, but “denial” kept him from it.

“If I could get in a DeLorean time machine and go back to that day, I would make such better choices. I would be in rehab that day.”

Movie references pop up often with Allen, even when he’s discussing serious matters. His intense love for film traces back to “Star Wars,” which he saw the summer before junior high.

“I blame ‘Star Wars’ for absolutely stunting any social growth,” he said.

His other hobby, ventriloquism, also was not the stuff of which a BMOC is made in Odessa. But a talent-show appearance eventually led to his first radio gig.

His affection for ventriloquism shows in the framed poster for the 1978 evil-dummy movie “Magic,” signed by star Anthony Hopkins, that hangs on the wall of his family’s home theater. Allen proudly reports that he outfitted the room himself, with audio-visual components he found on Craigslist.

His sobriety and the therapy he received as part of his recovery program have resulted in him being “more present, and in the moment” with his family, Allen said. “The family is a lot closer than we ever have been.”

But his children “paid a certain price” for his December arrest.

“I think at least two of my kids have expressed feeling (like they are) absorbing some of the shame,” he said. “I said, ‘I did this. This doesn’t reflect on you. Learn from your dad’s mistakes and see what happens, and don’t do this. … Please call a cab, Lyft, Uber, whatever exists in your lifetime.’ 

He also hopes his children “would look at the choices I have made since then,” he said. “And realize it’s never too late to do the right thing.”

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