LOS ANGELES — Network executives, television stars and prime-time producers aren’t exactly biting their manicured nails and shaking in their Gucci loafers over Grant Tinker’s new book, “Tinker on Television.”
Opinionated, insightful, even critical, Tinker, a 40-year veteran of TV, is no tattletale.
“There’s a kind of book you can write that people will read,” he says. “You know, a gossipy, kiss-and-tell book like ‘You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again.’ But I obviously can’t write that kind of book. I couldn’t even fictionalize it. So whether anyone will read this I don’t know. But I do have some things to say.”
Indeed he does. Just because he’s not catty doesn’t mean the 68-year-old Tinker can’t be a little juicy. He says Jay Leno’s problem is that he has no sex appeal, while Johnny Carson and David Letterman have it “in spades.” Howard Stern is “foul in subject matter and language.” And Time Warner ceo Gerald Levin exercised bad judgment in releasing Ice-T’s 1992 song “Cop Killer.”
The new generation of network executives cares more about “the bottom line than quality programming” and take “themselves much too seriously.”
So what shows do pass muster with the master? Right now, there’s “Seinfeld,” “Larry Sanders,” “NYPD Blue,” “Letterman” and “Charlie Rose.” The 10 shows on Tinker’s all-time-best list are “Hill Street Blues,” “60 Minutes,” “Dick Van Dyke,” “All in the Family,” “Mary Tyler Moore,” “Gunsmoke,” “Andy Williams,” “Carol Burnett,” “Omnibus” and “Playhouse 90.”
Tinker does admire shows on Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Television, but only because they are successful. Otherwise, he says, “I pay almost no attention to it. They took aim at an age and demographic crowd that’s not mine. I know ‘Melrose Place’ and ‘Beverly Hills 90210’ are very popular, but I’ve never seen them.”
Like many other pundits, Tinker blames tabloid TV for the general decline in programming.
“The dilemma now,” he says, “is that the networks have discovered the success of shows like ‘Hard Copy’ and its imitators. It’s like those people who hang out at O.J. Simpson’s house just to rub elbows with the fence. We all love to wallow in other people’s troubles.”
And speaking of O.J., Tinker admits he was glued to the tube during the famous freeway chase. Not surprisingly, he thinks the coverage was out of control.
“While I was watching it, I thought that if I were still the head of NBC, I wouldn’t have aired it,” he claims. “Not to be noble, but I just think that it was something of a disservice in a market like this to have all of the stations slavishly showing the same thing, while depriving the audience who didn’t want to watch it.”
Despite his feelings, Tinker concedes, “Everybody I know was fascinated by the preliminary hearings. Everybody sort of stopped what they were doing, and I think it’ll happen again when the trial is on.”