Grant Tinker, TV Executive Who Banked on Quality Shows, Dies at 90 – Hollywood Reporter
He formed MTM Enterprises with his then-wife Mary Tyler Moore and took NBC from last to first in the ratings during one of his three stints with the company.
Grant Tinker, who used “quality television” as the cornerstone to create the prolific production house MTM Enterprises with his then-wife Mary Tyler Moore and then reverse the fortunes of NBC in the 1980s, has died. He was 90.
Tinker, who had his fingerprints on such shows as The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show, Family Ties, St. Elsewhere and Hill Street Blues, died Monday at his home in Los Angeles, his son, TV producer-director-writer Mark Tinker, told the Associated Press.
NBC’s Today show remembered Tinker on Wednesday.
Starting as the first-ever trainee in the radio division of NBC in 1949 — his first of three stints with the company — Tinker had a ringside seat to the birth of television. He seemed to have a knack for being in the right place at the right time, as in 1961, when he went to watch the filming of the pilot episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show.
Then, as an advertising agency executive with Benton & Bowles, Tinker had secured sponsorship from his client Procter & Gamble for the sitcom created by Carl Reiner, based on his adventures writing for Sid Caesar on Your Show of Shows.
When Tinker visited the set, he was introduced to the cast, including the up-and-coming Moore, who was playing the wife of TV comedy writer Rob Petrie (Van Dyke).
Moore certainly caught Tinker’s eye, though he claimed it wasn’t love at first sight. “I can’t say I was hit by a hammer when I was introduced to her,” Tinker recalled in a 1998 interview with the Archive of American Television. “But she made an immediate impression on me, which grew over time.”
A year to be exact — the two married in 1962.
In 1969, Tinker had moved from Universal TV to serve as a vice president at Twentieth Century Fox TV when he met James L. Brooks and Allan Burns. Burns was a writer on Room 222, an ABC series Brooks had created. When CBS approached Moore with an offer to do her own show in 1969, Tinker turned to Brooks and Burns to create The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and Tinker and Moore formed MTM Enterprises to produce it.
The concept they came up with was much different from what the network had in mind. It was expecting a sitcom along the lines of The Lucy Show or The Doris Day Show, but Brooks and Burns delivered a high-concept comedy about Mary Richards (Moore), an independent, single woman going out on her own after being jilted by her longtime boyfriend. (CBS balked at having Mary depicted as a divorcee.) Mary moved to Minneapolis and built a quirky family among her friends and co-workers at a local TV station, where she worked in news as an associate producer.
Tinker continuously championed Brooks and Burns’ quest to break the sitcom mold with more sophisticated comedy, serious topics and a main character who didn’t need a man to complete her. His instincts were right on. The Mary Tyler Moore Show topped the ratings for seven seasons, won 29 Emmys — including outstanding television series three years straight — and made stars of Ed Asner, Valerie Harper, Cloris Leachman and Ted Knight.
In a statement, Moore called Tinker her “mentor” and said he 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.”
In 2007, Time magazine included the show on its list of “17 Shows That Changed TV,” writing that it was “a sophisticated show about grown-ups among other grown-ups, having grown-up conversations.”
It also gave Tinker the clout to turn MTM Enterprises into a producing empire. For the next decade, MTM (Moore’s initials) Enterprises ruled the airwaves with a string of iconic series, including The Bob Newhart Show, Rhoda, WKRP in Cincinnati, Hill Street Blues, St. Elsewhere, The White Shadow and Lou Grant.
Tinker’s formula was simple: Hire the best creatives and stand aside to let them do what they do best. Gary David Goldberg, Steven Bochco, Bruce Paltrow, Hugh Wilson, Joshua Brand, John Falsey and Tinker’s son Mark were among those who found success at MTM.
“Grant makes everyone he comes in contact with better,” Goldberg (Family Ties) said when Tinker was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1997. “Without him, I would be another hack.”
After Moore and Tinker divorced in 1981 (they didn’t have any children), he moved on from MTM Enterprises and NBC — lagging in the ratings, losing millions of dollars and mocked as “Nothing but Catastrophe” — wanted him back for a third time.
Tinker took over as chairman from Fred Silverman and, working with programming chief Brandon Tartikoff, attracted younger viewers to fuel a resurgence with a string of hits that included Family Ties, The Cosby Show, Cheers, The Golden Girls, Night Court, Miami Vice and Remington Steele.
NBC rose to become No. 1 in the ratings, and as The New York Times wrote in 1987, “Tinker led the network away from the graveyard into the gravy. During his chairmanship, NBC profits soared — from $48 million in 1981 to more than $400 million in 1986.”