TV Great Grant Tinker Dies, Former CEO Of NBC Was 90

Nellie Andreeva
Deadline

Grant Tinker, former chairman and CEO of NBC, died on Tuesday, Nov. 29. He was  90.

In 1969, Tinker and his then-wife, actress Mary Tyler Moore, launched MTM Enterprises. The company became an indie powerhouse, producing such popular series as the ground-breaking The Mary Tyler Moore Show, starring Moore, Rhoda, The Bob Newhart Show, WKRP in Cincinnati, Hill Street Blues and St. Elsewhere.

“I’m forever grateful for and proud of what we achieved together with the creation of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and founding of MTM Enterprises,” Moore said in a statement. “Grant was a brilliant, driven executive who uniquely understood that the secret to great TV content was freedom for its creators and performing artists.”

In 1981, Tinker left to become chairman and CEO of  then-last-place network NBC. There, guided by his famous motto “First be best, then be first,” Tinker, with Brandon Tartikoff as his entertainment president, spearheaded a ratings turnaround as NBC rose from last to first place on the strength of a slew of hit and acclaimed new series, including The Cosby Show, Family Ties, The Golden Girls, Cheers, Night Court, and Hill Street Blues. Tinker left NBC in 1986, following its acquisition by General Electric.

“Grant Tinker was a great man who made an indelible mark on NBC and the history of television that continues to this day,” NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke 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. We try to live up to the standards he set each and every day. Our hearts go out to his family and friends.”

Bob Greenblatt, Chairman of NBC Entertainment, this morning sent a note to the network’s staff about Tinker’s legacy. “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.” (You can read the full text of Greenblatt’s appreciation at the end of the post.)

Tinker won a personal Peabody Award in 1994 “for recognizing, protecting, and fostering creativity of the highest order.” He was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1997. Tinker is survived by his four children, including director-producer Mark Tinker and writer-producer John Tinker.

“My father set the bar high both as a television executive and a father,” said Mark Tinker, executive producer on NBC’s Chicago PD. “I never heard anyone speak of him with anything other than respect and admiration. I’m proud to be his son and especially proud of the legacy he leaves behind in business and as a gentleman.”

In this Archive of American Television interview below, Tinker recalls his beginnings at NBC as one of the company’s first interns in 1949. He also talks about his involvement with The Danny Thomas Show, and The Dick Van Dyke Show, and of course, The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Here is Greenblatt’s memo:

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.

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.

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