'Hill Street Blues' Creator Remembers Grant Tinker: "He Did Something No One Else Had Ever Done Before in TV" (Guest Column)
Tinker, who died Nov. 28 at 91, empowered a generation of showrunners first with MTM's hit factory and later at NBC with his "first be best, then be first" mantra that inspired young writers including Steven Bochco.
The day in 1981 that Grant Tinker left MTM Entertainment to become chairman and CEO of NBC Entertainment felt like the day after our recent presidential election.
All of us MTM writers were more than a little lost, as though our spiritual leader had abandoned us. It's hard to overestimate the impact Grant had on television as the architect of that unique production company at that unique time. He did something that no one else had ever done before him in television. He brought forth a generation of writers, including Jim Brooks (Mary Tyler Moore, Lou Grant), Gary Goldberg (Family Ties), Hugh Wilson (WKRP in Cincinnati) and myself, among many others, whom he empowered to become showrunners, and he nurtured and protected our creative freedom. The result was an incredible string of hit shows, comedies and dramas that pulled television, kicking and screaming, into the last decades of the 20th century.
Grant truly loved and admired writers. I remember having dinner in New York with him several months after he'd departed MTM. In the course of the conversation, I said that I envied him and his job — that I'd always had the fantasy of running a network. Grant became agitated. He said: "Are you crazy? You have a typewriter. Why the hell would you ever want to run a network when you can write?"
I never ran a network, though I once was offered the job. I heard Grant's voice in my head when I turned it down. But I did form my own production company (Steven Bochco Productions) in 1988, and Grant was my role model in terms of how to treat writers, protect them and create an environment that encouraged them to be their very best.
After Grant left NBC, and before his knees gave out, I used to play doubles tennis at his house almost weekly with Peter Grad, whom I worked with at Fox, and Brandon Tartikoff, NBC's famous programmer. Grant, genuinely modest, always credited Brandon for turning NBC around in the '80s, and there's no question Brandon was brilliant at his job. But the truth that Grant never took credit for was that he'd created the environment in which Brandon could creatively thrive, just as he had for all of us years before at MTM.
He was generous of heart, he was never envious of the success (and celebrity) we achieved under his tutelage, and he never took credit for any of it. And so it falls to us who loved him and learned from him to credit him now. I know that I never would have achieved the success I had were it not for him.
I will never forget Grant, and I will always miss him.
Seven Bochco is the 10-time Emmy-winning producer of Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue, L.A. Law and many others.
This story first appeared in the Dec. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.