For anyone unfamiliar with the rich legacy left by Grant Tinker, who died last week at 90, perhaps the biggest proof of his impact turned out to be this: Tributes poured in from the creative community. Showrunners, writers and directors praised the sensibility and story sense of Tinker, known for creating MTM Enterprises with his then-wife Mary Tyler Moore and running NBC as chairman and CEO in the 1980s.
The Tinker tributes came from the very people who, by the industry’s nature, tend to clash with the business execs charged with turning a profit on art. Among them were Steven Bochco, James L. Brooks, Gary David Goldberg and Hugh Wilson.
During a period when television as a medium was trying to progress from its raw black-and-white beginnings to a more ambitious cultural exponent, Tinker recognized the potency of talent. It is de rigueur now, in this current age of prestige shows and the notion of auteur-driven storytelling, for companies to mouth talking points about being friendly to creators. But Tinker in many ways popularized the concept within the executive suite.
MTM titles including The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Bob Newhart Show established, along with Norman Lear’s landmark titles in the 1970s, the capability of network shows to be wryly thoughtful and interested in much more than spectacle. Tinker’s tenure at NBC, teamed with programming visionary Brandon Tartikoff, cemented the concept in a network context. The powerhouse NBC primetime schedules of those years in the 1980s included Hill Street Blues, The Cosby Show, Cheers and Family Ties.
“Grant Tinker was a great man who made an indelible mark on NBC and the history of television that continues to this day,” Steve Burke, NBCUniversal CEO, said in a statement. “He loved creative people and protected them, while still expertly managing the business. Very few people have been able to achieve such a balance.”
Added NBC entertainment chief Bob Greenblatt: “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.”