Grant Tinker's career in television spans more than thirty years
and a number of positions in network programming and production,
he is best known for his work in the 1970s and 1980s as founder
and president of MTM Enterprises and as "the man who saved NBC"
when he served as the network's chairman and CEO from 1981 to 1986.
Throughout his career, he has been associated with the type of literate,
sophisticated programming usually referred to as "quality television."
and then-wife Mary Tyler Moore formed MTM Enterprises in 1970 to
produce The Mary Tyler Moore Show when she was offered a
13-episode series committment from CBS. Tinker put into practice
his philosophy of hiring the best creative people and letting them
work without interference from executives at the networks or at
MTM. He built MTM into a "writers' company" that produced some of
the most successful and award-winning series of the 1970s and 1980s.
Beginning with the writer-producer team of James Brooks and Allan
Burns, who created The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Tinker and
MTM nurtured the talents of a host of top writers and producers
whose work would go on to dominate network television schedules
and the Emmy awards through the 1990s. The staff included Gary David
Goldberg, Steven Bochco, Bruce Paltrow, Mark Tinker, Hugh Wilson,
Joshua Brand, and John Falsey. MTM's early hits were primarily sitcoms
in the Mary Tyler Moore mold (including spinoffs Rhoda
and Phyllis) as well as The Bob Newhart Show and WKRP
in Cincinnati. Beginning in the late 1970s and 1980s, however,
MTM produced a number of network television's most successful and
innovative dramas, including Lou Grant, The White Shadow, Remington
Steele, Hill Street Blues and St. Elsewhere, shows which
benefitted from Tinker's combination of benign neglect of creative
matters and tenacious support in dealing with the networks.
In 1981, Tinker left MTM to become chair and chief executive officer
of NBC, the perennial last-place network. With no shows in the Nielsen
top ten, and only two in the top 20, NBC had suffered through a
season of dismal profits (one-sixth the level of ABC's or CBS's)
and affiliate defections. Based on the belief that good quality
programming makes a strong network, Tinker worked with programming
chief Brandon Tartikoff to revitalize NBC's primetime schedule.
They allowed low-rated but promising series to remain on the schedule
until they built an audience, and courted the best producers to
supply the network with programs. Under this philosophy, NBC recovered
first the upscale urban audience prized by advertisers, then industry
approval with more Emmy awards than CBS and ABC combined, and finally
rose to first place in the ratings with blockbusters like the famed
Thursday night lineup--Cosby, Family Ties, Cheers, Night Court,
and Hill Street Blues-- billed as "the best night of
television on television." That his programming strategy relied
heavily on work from MTM (Hill Street, St. Elsewhere and
Remington Steele) and MTM alumni (Goldberg's Family Ties,
Charles Burrows' and Glen and Les Charles' Cheers ) eventually
cost Tinker his share of MTM, which NBC parent RCA ordered him to
sell in the early 1980s. Still, NBC's turnaround helped shore up
the network system in an era when new programming alternatives such
as cable and VCRs had begun eroding the once-monolithic network
audience. Tinker left NBC in 1986, shortly after it had been acquired
by General Electric.
stint as chairman and CEO was not Tinker's first with NBC. In 1949,
after graduation from Dartmouth, he became the network's first executive
trainee, learning about each of its departments before settling
into a job in the network's night operations. He left the network
in 1951 for employment in a series of production and programming
jobs in radio, television, and advertising. He served as director
of program development at McCann Erickson in the early 1950s when
advertisers were responsible for producing much of the networks'
schedules and at Warwick and Legler to rehabilitate Revlon's corporate
image after it had been tarnished in the quiz show scandals. He
also served as Benton and Bowles's vice president in charge of programs
where, among others, he was involved in developing Proctor and Gamble's
The Dick Van Dyke Show, and where he met his second wife, Mary
Tinker returned to NBC in the early 1960s as West Coast head of
programs, where he was responsible for program development of a
number of popular series, including Bonanza, I Spy, Dr. Kildaire
and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. After returning to New York to
serve as the network's vice president in charge of programs, he
left NBC to work as a production executive at Universal (where he
was instrumental in birthing It Takes a Thief and Marcus
Welby, M.D. as well as The ABC Movie of the Week) and
20th Century-Fox, before forming MTM in 1970.
serving as NBC chairman and chief executive officer, Tinker tried
to repeat his success with MTM Enterprises by forming GTG (Grant
Tinker-Gannett) Entertainment with the communications giant, which
produced the syndicated newsmagazine USA Today on TV and
the dramatic program WIOU, which aired for a short time on CBS.
The partnership was dissolved in 1990.
Photo courtesy of Grant Tinker
TINKER. Born in Stamford, Connecticut, U.S.A., 11 January 1926.
Educated at Dartmouth College. Married: 1) Ruth Byerly (divorced);
one daughter and three sons; 2) Mary Tyler Moore, 1963 (divorced,
1981). Worked in radio program department, NBC, 1949-54; TV department,
McCann-Erickson Advertising Agency, 1954-58; Benton and Bowles Advertising
Agency, 1958-61; vice president of programs, West Coast, NBC, 1961-66;
vice president in charge of programming, West Coast, NBC, New York
City, 1966-67; vice president, Universal TV, 1968-69; vice president,
20th Century Fox, 1969-70; president, Mary Tyler Moore (MTM) Enterprises,
Inc., 1970-81; chair of the board and chief executive officer, NBC,
Burbank, California, 1981-86; independent producer, Burbank, since
1986; president, GTG Entertainment, Culver City, California, since
"With NBC still Rated No. 3, Grant Tinker Ponders His Own Decisions--And
the Audience's" (interview). People Weekly (New York), 14
in Television: From General Sarnoff to General Electric, with
Bud Rukeyser. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994.
Ken. Three Blind Mice: How the TV Networks Lost Their Way.
New York: Random House, 1991.
Coe, Steve. "Tinker Writes the Book on Television; Former NBC Chairman
Looks at 40 Years Inside the Magic Box." Broadcasting & Cable
(Washington, D.C.), 5 September 1994.
Tortoise Overtakes the Hares." Broadcasting (Washington,
D.C.), 5 November 1984.
Van Dyke Show; Mary
Tyler Moore Show; Moore,
Mary Tyler; National
Broadcasting Company; United