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Grant Tinker: Friends and Fans Salute ‘Towering Figure’ in TV History

Variety logo Variety 11/30/2016 Cynthia Littleton
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No television executive of the modern era was more beloved or respected than Grant Tinker.

The legendary NBC chairman-CEO and MTM Enterprises president, who died Monday at 90, was admired for his philosophy of “first be best, then be first,” which he put into practice by empowering writers, directors and producers to execute their vision without micromanagement from above.

As word of Tinker’s passing spread throughout the industry on Wednesday, friends, colleagues and TV fans alike responded with tributes. Bob Greenblatt, NBC Entertainment chairman, penned a heartfelt memo that was distributed to the current Peacock team.

“It was with great sadness that I learned of the passing of Grant Tinker last night. He was not only an iconic television producer with the highest standards, but also a towering figure in the history of the NBC network,” Greenblatt wrote.

“Much will be written about him by more eloquent writers than I, but his level of class set him apart from everyone else in our business and all of us at this company owe him a debt of gratitude. In fact, TV watchers everywhere do.

“Grant was probably most famously married to Mary Tyler Moore, a partnership that yielded one of the most iconic independent production companies in history with MTM Enterprises — with a meowing cat logo that tipped its hat to the MGM lion — but also a string of some of the best comedies and dramas ever made.

” ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’ in 1970 was the pinnacle of that partnership and will stand the test of time. A few days before production of the pilot, Grant reportedly gave simple but effective direction to creators James L. Brooks and Allan Burns which helped put the show back on track after a rocky run-through. It now lives alongside other MTM productions, such as ‘The Bob Newhart Show,’ ‘Rhoda,’ ‘WKRP in Cincinnati,’ ‘Hill Street Blues,’ and ‘St. Elsewhere’ (among others) as some of the best American television series ever.

“Grant left MTM in 1981 at the height of its success to become Chairman and CEO of NBC, then in the difficult position of last place among networks in both ratings and profitability. His approach to reversing the situation was clear. He said, “First be best, then be first.” And that’s what happened.

“In partnership with Brandon Tartikoff, who worked for him, the network soon regained its footing by producing wildly popular shows like ‘The Cosby Show,’ ‘Family Ties,’ ‘The Golden Girls,’ ‘Cheers,’ ‘Night Court,’ and ‘Hill Street Blues.’ He left the network in 1986, shortly after parent company RCA was bought by General Electric, but seeds had been sown for NBC to remain the dominant network for many years to come.

“Grant Tinker restored success and dignity to NBC and helped define our brand that still endures to this day. Furthermore, his two sons John and Mark are award-winning television writers and directors, and Mark Tinker is a member of the NBC family at this very moment as executive producer of ‘Chicago P.D.’ Please join me in sending condolences to the entire Tinker family. The name will always be synonymous with the best of television and the best of NBC.”

Tinker discussed his approach to managing the creative process in TV in 2004 when he accepted his personal Peabody Award, a rare presentation of an award to an individual for contributions to the medium. “I have enjoyed a great deal of success with the help of others,” he said.


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