Wednesday, November 30, 2016
RIP Grant Tinker
As for those accomplishments: At MTM he was responsible for THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, THE BOB NEWHART SHOW, RHODA, PHYLLIS, HILL STREET BLUES, ST. ELSEWHERE. Taking over NBC, which was mired in last place, he brought the world CHEERS, COSBY, TAXI, FAMILY TIES, GOLDEN GIRLS, MIAMI VICE, HIGHWAY TO HEAVEN, and dozens of other hit shows. Come Emmy time NBC would usually sweep. Compare that to today when broadcast networks are almost shut out at Emmy time.
His famous dictum was: “First be best, then be first.”
And he practiced it. He brought class, sophistication, and humanity to everything he touched.
In the early ‘70s he was married to Mary Tyler Moore. Coming off the DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, she had a series commitment from CBS. Grant’s idea was to start an independent production company. MTM Enterprises was born. From there he produced other shows (such as THE BOB NEWHART SHOW) and built the company into a powerhouse.
But for me his greatest achievement was how much of a mensch he was. As a leader he was kind, thoughtful, smart, and treated everyone with respect. His philosophy was to hire the best people (like Allan Burns & James L. Brooks for THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW) and let them do their thing. Instead of injecting his own creative input (i.e. “notes”) he took on the role of protector – standing up for his writers against the networks, shielding them from unwanted interference. There’s no one like that today. Not even close.
MTM was Camelot for writers in the ‘70s. It’s where all TV writers wanted to work. When David Isaacs and I were starting out, MTM was our brass ring.
Happily, the first staff job we were offered was at MTM. It was for THE TONY RANDALL SHOW, produced by Tom Patchett & Jay Tarses (who had produced THE BOB NEWHART SHOW). We were hired at such a low level that we didn’t even have a title or on-screen credit. The only time we’d see our names on TV would be when we wrote episodes. But we didn’t care. We were at MTM.
Driving onto the lot that first day was one of the greatest days of my life. And it got better. Later that afternoon we went down to the stage for our first runthrough. Grant Tinker showed up, specifically to see us. He introduced himself, knew our names, welcomed us to MTM, and told us to call if there was anything we needed. Again, we were NOBODIES. Baby writers. We stood there in awe. That he would take the time and make the effort to do that astounds me to this day.
That same level of respect and protection was afforded all of us on CHEERS the first year of that show. Grant was running NBC by then. The ratings were dismal, but he didn’t care. He loved the show, believed in the show, and not only kept it on the air but left us all alone to do it our way. Ironic that his name was Tinker when tinkering was the last thing he ever did.
Whenever I would see him I felt I was in the presence of greatness. And I was always surprised he knew who I was. Even after our tenth encounter. This was like "the prettiest girl in school knew my name."
There was a flap over a joke from an early CHEERS episode that David and I wrote. Some adoption agency took issue with an adoption joke we had written (a pretty funny one actually). The complaint somehow made its way all the way up to Grant. He called us personally to say don’t worry, he’d take care of it. Who does that? I mean, seriously, who does that???
Over the next few days you will read tribute after tribute. If it seems like the industry is praising a saint that’s because (in this one instance) it’s TRUE. Television and popular culture can never repay the debt owed to Grant Tinker. And for those of us lucky enough to work for him, it’s a loss of incalculable measure. He was a visionary, a father-figure, an inspiration, a leader in the true sense of the word, and like I said, a mensch.
He was the best. And he’ll always be first.