1998: Grant Tinker talks about I Spy, Get Smart

Grant Tinker (1926-2016)

The blog spent some time viewing a 1998 Archive of American Television interview with Grant Tinker, who spent part of his career as an NBC executive as well as being co-founder (with his then-wife, Mary Tyler Moore) of MTM Productions.

In particular, the blog viewed portions of the interview dealing with Tinker’s role as a West Coast-based NBC executive in the 1960s. In that capacity, he dealt with producers such as Norman Felton (The Man From U.N.C.L.E.), Sheldon Leonard (I Spy) and Leonard Stern (Get Smart).

Tinker didn’t spent much time talking about Norman Felton (he referenced other shows Felton made). But he discussed I Spy and Get Smart in some detail.

I Spy: “I remember the very day” that Sheldon Leonard “walked into my office and said, he wanted to travel a show. He hadn’t done a dramatic show that I could remember. He wanted to cast (Robert) Culp and (Bill) Cosby.”

The interviewer asks if Tinker had pause about casting an African American actor in such a key role. “It didn’t give me pause….Bill was an established comedian.” Tinker said he was more skeptical about containing costs for a series that would have actual location filming in Europe and Asia.

As it turned out, Leonard had $400,000 in cost overruns for the first season (which involved location shooting in Hong Kong, Tokyo and Mexico). Today, that’s quaint. Regardless, Leonard “was such an honorable guy. He was wondering if we could help with that. Of course, we did. We picked it all up.”

Get Smart:  An agent brought Tinker a script after the network had spent all of its development money for the upcoming television season. The script had been turned down by ABC.

“It turned out ABC had paid $7,500 for Buck Henry and Mel Brooks to write it. It was Get Smart. I read it that night.”

Tinker called his superiors, telling them they had to secure the property. “We have to find the money to do one more pilot.”

NBC had Don Adams under contract and he became the star. “We didn’t know what else to do with him, so we put him in Get Smart,” Tinker said. “It was just so funny.”

To watch the part of the interview dealing with I Spy, go here starting around the 24:26 mark.

To watch the part of the interview about Get Smart, go here starting around the 3:38 mark.

Mary Tyler Moore’s noir beginnings, role as TV mogul

Mary Tyler Moore's unusual title card for an episode of the Thriller TV series

Mary Tyler Moore’s unusual title card for Man of Mystery, an episode of the Thriller TV series

Mary Tyler Moore died Jan. 25 at the 80, The New York Times and numerous media outlets reported. Quite understandably, the obituaries focused on how she, in the words of the Times, “helped define a new vision of American womanhood” with The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Mary Tyler Moore Show in the 1960s and ’70s.

That’s because a woman wearing pants (as her Laura Petrie did in Van Dyke) or being an independent career woman (as her Mary Richards was on her namesake show) were considered big deals at the time.

The purpose of this post is to highlight other parts of her lengthy career: Her start on black-and-white TV and her later role as television mogul.

Her early credits included Sam, the woman answering service during the third season of Richard Diamond, Private Eye. She also made the rounds in guest appearances on other detective shows of the era such as 77 Sunset Strip, Hawaiian Eye, Bourbon Street Beat and Checkmate. This was a time that television was almost entirely filmed in black and white.

The actress also appeared in two episodes of the Boris Karloff-hosted anthology show, Thriller. She was more prominent in her second appearance, Man of Mystery. That episode ran during the 1961-62 season, which coincided with the first season of The Dick Van Dyke Show. CLICK HERE for a review at a Thriller fan website.

Moore, in 1969, formed MTM Enterprises with her then-husband Grant Tinker. MTM produced The Mary Tyler Moore Show but it would quickly expand.

Initially it stayed with situation comedies (including Mary Tyler Moore Show spinoffs) but branched out into drama and other formats. Its hour-long shows included the medical drama St. Elsewhere and Remington Steele. The latter made Pierce Brosnan a star in the United States and put him in position to take the role of James Bond.

MTM would change ownership a number of times before eventually dissolving in the late 1990s. But it left a significant mark on U.S. television.

Tinker and Moore divorced in 1981. Tinker died in November at age 90.