The McCann Time Capsule: Grant Tinker
The death of Grant Tinker this week is a reminder not only of the 1970s-80s glory days of network TV programming, but also of the 1950s when ad agencies were major players in determining what went on the air. Tinker, who was director of program development at McCann in New York from 1954-1957 and then worked at another major agency, has spoken extensively in interviews about Madison Avenue’s role in broadcasting in that era.
Tinker is, of course, now most famous as the TV programming legend who first produced many iconic TV shows and then became the successful head of the NBC TV network where he shepherded even more to the air. The list of well-known shows he brought to the air as a producer include “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” (produced at MTM Enterprises, the company he founded with his second wife, the actress Mary Tyler Moore), “Rhoda,” “Lou Grant” and “The Bob Newhart Show.” He then became Chairman and CEO of NBC from 1981-1986 where many major programs such as “The Cosby Show,” “Cheers,” “The Golden Girls,” “Hill Street Blues,” “Family Ties,” “St. Elsewhere” and “Miami Vice” helpedelevate that network to first place.
As Tinker has noted in his recorded “Emmy TV Legends “interview, McCann was his first agency job in 1954 after having worked earlier in radio. McCann at the time, he said, was “not as busy a television agency as it should have been. It had more clients that didn’t do a lot of television. But I learned a lot about television there because the agencies in the 1950s controlled programming . . .The agencies in the 1950s were like little networks. They owned shows, they commissioned shows, they bought them for advertisers, and then they placed them on the networks, which were in effect only selling time.” Among the shows at McCann that Tinker has been identified with was one that was considered a forerunner to “Good Morning America” for ABC.
Recognizing that it needed to catch up dramatically in TV, McCann’s 1950s CEO Marion Harper led the agency through an intensive new business push to win more clients who were broadcast spenders. In late 1956, Television Age magazine referred to McCann’s “breathless, newsmaking 30-month period between 1954 and the middle of last summer” when it won some 35 new U.S. clients in only two-and-a-half years. The broadcast billings rankings in turn reflected these gains. McCann, which was 10th in U.S. broadcast billings in 1953, rose to the No. 1 spot by 1957, according to Sponsor magazine, when its $106 million in billings made it the first agency to ever bill more than $100 million in TV and radio.