Mario Tharpe - Senior Producer
Nov. 5, 2013 by Nicole V. Rohr
“I worked on Hoop Dreams, and at that point, I was really like, ‘Yeah, hands down this is what I want to do,” said WYCC Senior Producer Mario Tharpe, reflecting on the fateful choice he made entering high school at Curie Metropolitan in Chicago. As the son of nationally known musician Robert Tharpe (stage name: Tommy Dark) and educator Joyce Washington, Tharpe knew something great was in store for him.
There was only one major left for then 16-year-old Tharpe to choose: television production. This path would end up changing everything for the now accomplished In the Loop senior producer and the newly engaged father of one.
“I got into TV and the very first semester, I knew that that was what I wanted to do. I immediately began locking in on everything about television – entering competitions, winning competitions,” Tharpe explained.
From there, Tharpe went to Columbia College, at first studying the technical side of production, and then admittedly realizing he hated the technical side of production. Tharpe switched to producing during his junior year, and later landed an internship at Central City Productions in Chicago. Moving from senior production assistant to associate producer, then to producer and writer, he produced more than 200 episodes of Minority Business Report, spending many hours on the road for work.
“To see the country at somebody else’s expense in my early 20s… interviewing politicians and business owners, from Isaiah Thomas to the owner of Starbucks… it was a really good stepping stone,” Tharpe said.
After four years with Central City, Tharpe landed a job with Towers Productions, working on the show American Justice – but then he decided to make a change. In 2003, Tharpe ventured out with his former boss at Central City and began an independent production company called Adia Video Productions. The company made it through one and half years during an extremely tough market, and after, Tharpe freelance produced shows like Gangland and When Weather Changed History for the History Channel, and Behind Bars for the Discovery Channel.
Just prior to coming to WYCC, Tharpe also worked on the series Find Our Missing and Deceived for the TV One network. At this point in his career, he had developed a clear sense of the type of work he enjoyed most.
Tharpe explained that the results that come from documentary-style productions are “more gratifying.” “I probably enjoy the reality because you get to see what’s happening in the moment, you know. They’re not made-up stories. And when you spend three months producing a documentary, you want to showcase what you’ve done,” he said.
He described spending weeks inside a county jail for Behind Bars, and hiring 100 Revolutionary War re-enactors for When Weather Changed History. Tharpe has many crazy stories, and all led him to his work on In the Loop at WYCC and his life with his beautiful family. His son, Tyler, turns 9 this Christmas.
“He is a very tall 8-year-old,” Tharpe said, smiling, “and the love of my life.” Tyler gets along famously with his dad’s fiancé Chrisna – a woman who was very surprised earlier this year while eating at a restaurant in Miami Beach. Tharpe proposed in front of 40 other patrons in the courtyard of Tosca Restaurant. There is no other woman for him, according to Tharpe.
Mario and Chrisna have known each other for 8 years, but got together two years ago thanks to a little destiny, and to Chrisna’s persistent godmother, also a client of Tharpe’s rehab construction business. Mario couldn’t be prouder: “[She is a] graduate of Northwestern, she's well respected in her profession, she’s spiritual, she loves the Lord... I’ve dated quite a bit, and hands down, she is the best woman that I have ever dated. Just everything you could ever ask for – it’s her.”
And love is in the air for one other person important to Tharpe: his mother, Joyce. This October, Tharpe’s mother married for the first time, to a longtime family friend just three days before her 70th birthday.
Tharpe said, “It was the proudest moment of my life. My mom worked extremely hard to raise three children and always put her children first. To see her do something she’s been wanting to do for so long was beyond special.”
So, hard work runs in the family, as Tharpe has put much time and energy into WYCC’s Emmy-nominated public affairs show In the Loop, now wrapping its second season. “In the Loop is my new baby,” Tharpe said, “and along with the amazing team at WYCC, we are all working hard to shape and mold the show into something people throughout Chicago will know about.”