Outgoing NBC Chairman Grant Tinker held farewell gatherings on both coasts last week, but it was Sunday night's Emmy Awards presentation that may have provided the most apt send-off.
NBC swept the prime-time series categories with the only exceptions being "Cagney & Lacey's" wins for CBS. That follows NBC victories the last two years and a similar sweep in 1983. The peacock network's triumph this year--which brought NBC more Emmys than it has ever won--represent the culmination of the Tinker era, industry observers say, the fruits of a management style that nurtured creative people and their ideas.
Tinker, who heads to his vacation home in France this week, said he did not view the Emmys as a fond, final farewell while he sat in the audience at Pasadena Civic Auditorium. "Unless my next physical proves this to be a lie, I'm not dying," he said Monday morning. "I had sort of a terminal feeling, but it was more musing than anything else.
"I'm sort of competitive and I have to confess that I'd rather see my people winning Emmys than losing them," he continued. "I also had the fun of seeing one of my sons, John--he's a writer for 'St. Elsewhere,' you know--get up there. I guess I had a pretty good feeling about the whole thing. When I look back over the time I've been here, we've had a very good run of reaction to our shows."
Tales of NBC's laissez-faire attitude toward creative people under Tinker are legendary--and not 100% accurate. There are producers who swear by ABC and CBS and others who say they have problems with NBC.
Yet, in a way, CBS' "Cagney & Lacey" is the exception that proves the rule; it was the very hands-off policy for which NBC has become known that allowed that CBS series to become a hit, according to its executive producer.
" 'Cagney & Lacey' is the best work I've ever done in my life," Barney Rosenzweig said a few hours after seeing his show win four statuettes, including one as best dramatic series. "I've also never had more freedom. I don't think that's a coincidence."
Rosenzweig said he escaped the often-painful network development process that series go through at all three networks because "Cagney & Lacey" was initially produced as a movie-of-the-week. Once it was resurrected after cancellation and became a critically acclaimed series, it was less vulnerable to network tinkering.
Still, at NBC, keeping a hands-off policy toward producers and their work is only part of the story. The network under Tinker sought out those producers who wouldn't have accepted any intervention.
"This was always Grant's talent," said "Family Ties" producer Gary David Goldberg. "They (at NBC) consistently found the writers who had special vision and passion for their project. They had high risk and high gain." The Emmy success, Goldberg added, "is the culmination of their policy."
So a sitcom about four older women could find a home at NBC and a year later pick up four Emmys, as "The Golden Girls" did Sunday night.
There are other reasons for NBC's Emmy success in the last few years, too, that may or may not be due to Tinker.
In both the drama and comedy series categories, NBC had an edge in terms of sheer quantity. "The Cosby Show" gave NBC a head start with sitcoms, which only two years ago was still considered a dead form. At the start of last season, NBC had 10 sitcoms on the air, compared with six on ABC and three on CBS. If you're looking for a sitcom to nominate, you have a greater chance of finding the genre on NBC.
NBC's drama slate, meanwhile, benefits at Emmy time from a programming situation that once was viewed as a liability: It has no prime-time serials a la CBS' "Dallas" or ABC's "Dynasty." These shows, along with "Knot's Landing" and "Falcon Crest," are top ratings-grabbers for CBS and ABC--but they do not win awards.
Tinker, who always insists that credit for wise programming should go to Entertainment President Brandon Tartikoff, said that neither he nor Tartikoff have much interest in the "Dallas"-style serial form. "I never have had. From a viewer standpoint, I've never gotten hooked on any of them. Maybe I haven't tried hard enough."
Instead, NBC chose to nurture a different kind of serial show--series like "Hill Street Blues" and "St. Elsewhere," that became big winners. It didn't necessarily hurt that those shows were always ratings underdogs.
"Success in the ratings can bring failure in the awards categories," said "Dallas" executive producer Leonard Katzman. Though he doesn't go along with the reasoning, he acknowledges that "critically, the (nighttime) soaps seem to be on a sublevel to the other dramas."
While Katzman credits Tinker with bringing NBC "that kind of mantle of quality," he also states that "CBS always had that mantle when (CBS founder William) Paley was running the network."
That's not incidental, as far as the future of the Emmys are concerned. Paley is once again in an active role at CBS. At ABC, meanwhile, the new bosses from Capital Cities Communications have wholeheartedly endorsed Entertainment President Brandon Stoddard's plan to follow the Tinker-Tartikoff approach to wooing creative talent.
And Tinker is off to France, to be followed by a return to independent producer ranks even as his successor, General Electric's Robert C. Wright, settles in at NBC.