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Tinker--a Special Emmy For A Man Of Quality

September 21, 1987|DENNIS McDOUGAL | Times Staff Writer

If there are any skeletons in Grant Tinker's closet, they're so well hidden that it would take the resurrection of Agatha Christie to find one.

About the worst anyone will say about the 61-year-old recipient of this year's Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Governors Award is that he was the man responsible for putting the short-lived 1960s sitcom "Camp Runamuck" on the air.

"I think it was his own personal vision of America," deadpanned "St. Elsewhere" producer Bruce Paltrow, who has known Tinker since the early days of MTM Enterprises, the company Tinker founded with his former wife Mary Tyler Moore in 1970.

The Studio City company, which Tinker left in 1981 for a five-year stint as boss of NBC, has been responsible for such critical and commercial successes as "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," "Lou Grant," "WKRP in Cincinnati" and "The Bob Newhart Show."

"It's great that they're giving him the award while he's still breathing," said Paltrow, whose own MTM series employs two of Tinker's sons, Mark and John. "Tinker's an old man you know: white hair, bad knees. He's been putting on a little weight lately, too. I sure hope that doesn't show up on camera."

When he finally gets serious, Paltrow is as laudatory as everyone else in Hollywood.

"In all the years that I've been in television, there have been maybe a half-dozen, a dozen people at the most, who have had impact," he said. "Edward R. Murrow, Norman Lear, Grant Tinker . . . that's the league you're talking about. It's great that he's getting the Emmy."

At the Pasadena Civic Auditorium on Sunday, Tinker was to join the ranks of more than a dozen recipients of the prestigious Governors Award. During the Emmy Awards' 39-year history, the special honor has been bestowed on such TV legends as Bob Hope, Johnny Carson, Walter Cronkite, former ABC president Elton H. Rule, former NBC chief Sylvester (Pat) Weaver and, last year's honoree, Red Skelton.

"You can't honor this guy enough for me," said "Hill Street Blues" co-creator Steve Bochco, who worked for Tinker during Tinker's tenure as NBC chairman.

"Here's a guy who gets the greatest press in the world and it isn't half as good as it should be," said former "Today Show" producer Steve Friedman, who followed Tinker to Tinker's new production company, GTG (Grant Tinker/Gannett) Productions after Tinker left NBC in June, 1986. Friedman is currently developing a new TV newsmagazine for GTG, based on Gannett's national newspaper, USA Today.

"I'd go to work for him in a minute," said a Lorimar writer who, like dozens of other Hollywood creative people, regard Tinker as synonymous with quality television.

His single biggest accomplishment, according to Bochco, was "liberating the writer, which is conducive to raising the standards of television.

"It's delicious and ironic that a guy as shy as this has to hang his face out on national TV (to receive his award)," said Bochco. "But it's the right time. Look at Grant's career, culminating with the extraordinary past six years at NBC. If there was ever a time for a serious 'attaboy!' now's the time."

During his five-year tenure as NBC chairman, Tinker led the third-place network to its current undisputed perch atop the Nielsen ratings. When he left to create Culver City-based GTG Productions, the first series deal that he struck was with second-place CBS. GTG is currently developing programs that Tinker hopes to debut on national television sometime next year.

Though he concedes that "some people rightfully deplore" much of television's current programming, Tinker told The Times that he believes the medium has generally improved during the 30 years since he left the Madison Avenue advertising firm of Benton & Bowles and first joined NBC as its West Coast programming chief. His only general criticism of prime time in 1987 is that there are too many sitcoms and too little variety.

"It would be nice if the network schedules were as eclectic as they once were," Tinker said. He misses the TV Western, for example.

When it comes to awards, Tinker is his usual self-deprecating self.

"I haven't the foggiest idea why they're giving it to me," he told The Times before he was to receive the award. "I guess it's my age. You last long enough in this business and they give you an award."

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