For­mer NBC chief Grant Tin­ker dies at 90

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By Fra­zier Moore AP Tele­vi­sion Writer

Grant Tin­ker, who brought new pol­ish to the TV world and beloved shows to au­di­ences as both a pro­ducer and a net­work boss, has died. He was 90.

Tin­ker died Mon­day at his Los An­ge­les home, ac­cord­ing to his son, pro­ducer Mark Tin­ker.

Though he had three tours of duty with NBC, the last as its chair­man, Tin­ker was per­haps best­known as the nur­tur­ing hand at MTM En­ter­prises, the pro­duc­tion com­pany he founded in 1970 and ran for a decade.

Noth­ing less than a cre­ative salon, MTM scored with some TV’s most re­spected and best-loved pro­grams, in­clud­ing “Lou Grant,” ‘’Rhoda,” ‘’The Bob Ne­whart Show” and, of course, the series that starred his busi­ness part­ner and then-wife, Mary Tyler Moore, a long­time Dutchess County res­i­dent.

“I am deeply sad­dened to learn that my for­mer hus­band and pro­fes­sional men­tor Grant Tin­ker has passed away,” Moore said in a state­ment. “Grant was a bril­liant, driven ex­ec­u­tive who uniquely un­der­stood that the se­cret to great TV con­tent was free­dom for its cre­ators and per­form­ing artists. This was man­i­fest in his ‘first be best and then be first’ ap­proach.”

Tin­ker summed it up with typ­i­cal self-ef­face­ment in a 1994 in­ter­view with The As­so­ci­ated Press: “I just had the good luck to be around peo­ple who did the kind of work that the au­di­ence ap­pre­ci­ates. The suc­cess just rubbed off on me.”

In 1981, Tin­ker flour­ished with that low-key ap­proach in a last-ditch ef­fort to save NBC, which was scrap­ing bot­tom with its earn­ings, rat­ings, pro­grams and morale. Five years later, when Tin­ker left to re­turn to in­de­pen­dent pro­duc­tion, the net­work was flush thanks to hits such as “The Cosby Show” and “Hill Street Blues.”

Tin­ker, who had come to NBC as a man­age­ment trainee in 1949 with leg­endary founder David Sarnoff still in charge, left the com­pany for the last time at the end of an era, as NBC, along with its par­ent RCA, was about to be swal­lowed by Gen­eral Elec­tric.

In 2005, he won a pres­ti­gious Pe­abody Award hon­or­ing his over­all ca­reer. In re­ceiv­ing his medal­lion, he called him­self “a guy of no dis­tinct or spe­cific skills (who) al­ways needed a lot of help.” He also had re­ceived the Gov­er­nors Award from the Acad­emy of Tele­vi­sion Arts & Sciences.

“Grant Tin­ker was a great man who made an indelible mark on NBC and the his­tory of tele­vi­sion that con­tin­ues to this day,” said Steve Burke, CEO of NBCUniver­sal, sole owner of the net­work since 2013. “He loved cre­ative peo­ple and pro­tected them, while still ex­pertly man­ag­ing the busi­ness. Very few peo­ple have been able to achieve such a bal­ance.”

“His level of class set him apart from ev­ery­one else in our busi­ness,” said Bob Green­blatt, Chair­man of NBC En­ter­tain­ment, “and all of us at this com­pany owe him a debt of grat­i­tude. In fact, TV watch­ers ev­ery­where do.”

He “set the bar high both as a tele­vi­sion ex­ec­u­tive and as a father,” said Mark Tin­ker. “I’m proud to be his son, and es­pe­cially proud of the legacy he leaves be­hind in busi­ness and as a gen­tle­man.”

Born in 1926, the son of a lum­ber sup­plier, Tin­ker had grown up in Stam­ford, Con­necti­cut, and grad­u­ated from Dart­mouth Col­lege be­fore his first short stint at NBC.

Then he moved into ad­ver­tis­ing. At a time when ad agen­cies were heav­ily re­spon­si­ble for craft­ing pro­grams its clients would spon­sor, Tin­ker was a vice pres­i­dent at the Ben­ton & Bowles agency when he helped de­velop “The Dick Van Dyke Show” for Proc­ter & Gam­ble. There he met, and fell for, the young ac­tress the whole coun­try was about to fall in love with: Mary Tyler Moore.

Soon af­ter the new CBS sit­com had be­gun its fivesea­son run in fall 1961, Tin­ker re­turned to NBC, this time as vice pres­i­dent of West Coast pro­gram­ming.

Mean­while, he and Moore be­came TV’s golden couple and, in 1962, they wed. (His first mar­riage had ended in di­vorce.)

Tin­ker stayed at NBC un­til 1967, af­ter which he had brief stays at Uni­ver­sal and Twen­ti­eth Cen­tury Fox.

Then, with an itch to run his own shop, Tin­ker founded MTM and be­gan de­vel­op­ing its first series: a com­edy to re­vive the flag­ging ca­reer of his wife.

The pi­lot for “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” rated poorly with test au­di­ences. The hero­ine was dis­missed for be­ing over 30 and un­mar­ried. Neigh­bor Phyl­lis (Cloris Leach­man) was deemed too an­noy­ing, best friend Rhoda (Va­lerie Harper) “too New Yorky and brassy (read: Jewish),” as Tin­ker wrote in his 1994 mem­oir, “Tin­ker in Tele­vi­sion.”

But the show, which pre­miered on CBS in fall 1970, was a crit­i­cal and pop­u­lar smash for seven sea­sons and be­came the flag­ship series of a stu­dio whose mew­ing kit­ten (par­o­dy­ing the MGM lion) came to sig­nify some of TV’s best.

Along the way, MTM be­came an in­cu­ba­tor for some of TV’s best writ­ers and pro­duc­ers, many of whom — like Steven Bochco, James L. Brooks and Tom Fon­tana — con­tinue to ex­cel in TV and films.

By 1981, Tin­ker’s stew­ard­ship of MTM had ended (as had his mar­riage to Moore) when he re­turned to NBC, where, he re­called in his book, “the com­pany had lost its cred­i­bil­ity with every im­por­tant con­stituency — af­fil­i­ates, ad­ver­tis­ers, the press, the gen­eral pub­lic and its own em­ploy­ees.”

AP FILE

Grant Tin­ker is shown in 1997 in Los An­ge­les with his exwife, ac­tress Mary Tyler Moore.

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