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Farewell to the King of Quality Television
December 1, 2016  | By Noel Holston
 

The first time I met Grant Tinker, on my wide-eyed first TV critics press tour way back in 1973, I wanted to be him. I mean, c'mon. He looked like the distinguished gentleman in the Hathaway shirt magazine ads, minus the eye patch, and he was married to Mary Tyler Moore. What wasn't to envy.
     
But hearing of Tinker's passing at the age of 90, it's not so much his ridiculous handsomeness or his one-time wife that come to mind but, rather, what he did to profoundly change prime-time programming for the better. Tinker never wrote a line of dialogue that I know of, never directed an episode, never acted as a hands-on producer, but he he had an eye for talent and a respect for both that talent and the intelligence of the viewing audience.
     
A former ad man and network programming executive, Tinker and Moore formed MTM Enterprises in 1969 to develop and produce her eponymous CBS sitcom. While arguably only a small leap in sophistication from The Dick Van Dyke Show in which she'd blossomed, The Mary Tyler Moore Show provided their company the template for an amazing collection of urbane, humane sitcoms, including The Bob Newhart Show and Rhoda. MTM under Tinker would eventually extrapolate the sensibility of those shows into an even more influential string of dramas with comedic elements, starting with the MTM spin-off Lou Grant and encompassing hour-long shows as diverse as Hill Street Blues, The White Shadow and Remington Steele – shows if not for which today's cornucopia of great dramas would not exist.
    
In 1981, after NBC had done one of the great belly flops in TV history, Tinker left MTM to take the job of chairman and CEO. He raised the network from the ruins by running it the way he'd run MTM, committing the Peacock network to quality projects, hiring (and trusting) the best and most ambitious creative talent he could find, and betting that the audience would find and embrace the shows.
     
Tinker became a critics' darling because of what his programmers put on the air and because he was honest with the press about what it took to make a network succeed, his personal tastes notwithstanding. It wasn't all highbrow fare, not by a long shot. But there was a heretofore unknown balance. For every A Team there was a St. Elsewhere (right), for every Manimal a Bay City Blues. No top TV executive ever had less to apologize for.
     
I do recall Tinker making an excuse, however. He told a roomful of TV critics on a mid-'80s press tour that even if NBC wanted to fill more of its schedule with A-grade shows, there simply weren't enough writers and producers of that ability in the talent pool to make them.
     
The staggering number of high-quality shows that have appeared since the late 1990s suggests he was wrong. Then again, it may just be that he didn't fully comprehend the groundwork his MTM and NBC shows were laying.
       
But we do.

 
 
 
 
 
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