Thursday, December 29, 2016
Here I go again --every Christmas season I get to interview Ron James who has a quirky end-of-year TV special that's been a staple of CBC New Year's Eve.
This year I had to telephone James in Halifax where he was tending to the needs of an ailing father.
And as usual the subject started with the simple question : why is James considered such a delightful comic.
"It's the way I see things, I'm guessing," he says with a nervous laugh. "There's a lot of lightness in my comedy but also some very dark stuff. It's where I come from."
Born in Glace Bay, James is rightly proud of his heritage and he says his "Canadianess" plays well wherever he finds himself across this sprawling country.
"I'm about the same I always was," he jokes. "But certainly there's a lot more political issues discussed these days. These politicians are sure targets."
I haven't see the whole hour but James artfully dices and slices in his usual hilarious monologue..
Donald Trump is a great target and James has one nugget of advice: "Get rid of the tweets."
Says James to the captivated audience: "How else can you figure he wound up in the White House?"
Explaining the Canadian election James says of course the winner would be Justin Trudeau as opposed to Thomas Mulcair :"Looking badly in need of a rabies shot."
Other targets of James's comedic wrath: Samsung 7, Pokemon, Stephen Harper, North Korea.
These days James tells me he plays some 40 dates across Canada every year.
"The smaller town audiences are so enjoyable. They're delighted just to be included, they know what it really means to be a Canadian."
One place James won't want to revisit: comedy clubs. "I honed my talents there but no more. I like bigger audiences and there are some great theaters across Canada. We did this one in Kingston. I like to go some place different every year."
James first came to attention as a member of Toronto's Second City troupe. He learned how to texture routines for the audience and how to play off them. And he finally got the courager to try Hollywood.
There were guest spots on such TV hits as Wings as well as busted pilots before he realized Canada was his home.
For five seasons James reigned supreme on his own CBC TV comedy show which artfully mixed stand up with sketches.
"The sketches got better. I tried at first to do them as part of the running show. When we filmed them separately they became more fluid and funnier, that's all."
His great 1994 docu-comedy Down And Out In Shaky Town is still a delight when viewed on YouTube.
"At the end I discovered Canada is where it's at for me."
Anyone doubting James' acting skills should search out his outstanding dramatic turn in the series Made In Canada which is now out in a boxed set.
And there's also his first TV sitcom the wild and wonderful Blackfly (2001) which initially ran on Global TV.
When I tell James a video store manager said it was one of the most requested items not yet on DVD he's momentarily stunned.
But I have a new role for James and I'd like CBC to seriously consider this.
Apparently CBC is going to get a cash infusion from the admiring Liberal federal government.
Some of that dough should be used to mount a late night talk show.
CBC once had a late nighter starring Peter Gzowski and later Comedy had one with Mike Bullard.
James has the smarts to front such a Canadian TV effort --in university he was a history major--and if you watch this new special you'll see he's a comedic mesmerist who can captivate a very demanding audience for the better part of an hour with his standup genius.
So how about it CBC?
RON JAMES TRUE NORTH SPECIAL PREMIERES ON CBC-TV FRIDAY DECEMBER 30 AT 9 P.M,REPEATED JANUARY 1 AT 9 P.M.
I was lucky to interview the late great Debbie Reynolds twice at length in Toronto when she was in the afterglow of a long career.
The first time was on the set of the CBS TV Movie Sadie And Son in 1987, a crazy sort of pilot that had Debbie co-starred as a New York city cop with her son (played by Brian McNamara) also on staff.
It was a great stretch to think of our Debbie as a cop because she was petite and far below the normal height requirements.
"Don't worry kid," she laughed in her trailer as she awaited for the shooting call. "This is show biz, we fake everything!"
At the time she was an energetic and bouncy 55-year old and she was still bouncing around at 2 a.m. when director John Llewellyn Moxey was filming deep in the Toronto subway system on the Queen street station which has never been used.
The second time was in 2000 when Deb was then 68 and she suddenly looked older and plumper and she stayed shivering in her trailer waiting to go on the set of a TV movie Virtual Mom.
Here are a few highlights from our chats:
JB: How did you break into the biz?
DR: Well, I'd wanted to be a gym instructor but I didn't have enough money to go to college. we lived in Burbank where dad was a carpenter worker for the railway. And I somehow got a standard contract at Warner Brothers just a few blocks away which paid me $50 a week. I took lots of lessons --in one class we were even shown the proper way to use a fork and spoon. And I had an extra bit in June Bride (1948) which starred Miss Bette Davis. Eight years later I played her daughter in the movie The Catered Affair and she pretended to remember me. In The Daughter Of Rosie O'Grady I was June Haver's kid sister and then my option was dropped like that.
JB: Then what?
DR: I got another starlet contract at MGM and in my first movie there I sang the Abba Dabba song in Three Little Words(1950) with Carleton Carpenter as my partner.
JB: Your fourth movie at MGM was Singin' In The Rain (1952)?
DR: I was forced on Gene Kelly. He wanted to hire outside the studio but my mentor Louis B. Mayer said no. And for three months we rehearsed those numbers until my feet started to bleed. I was at my wit's end and crying in an alley way when Fred Astaire came by and stopped. He'd been the star of Three Little Words. And he arranged to secretly train me in the next sounstage. We went through all of the moves hundreds of times. When I came to film the scene where we must jump over the sofa Gene was so pleased he put his tongue in my mouth!
JB: That made you?
DR: I did stupid little things like I Love Melvin, The Affairs Of Dobie Gillis, Give A Girl A Break. At RKO I was in my first big comedy opposite Dick Powell who was 50 and I was the girl pursuing him and I was 22.That was Susan Slept Here.
JB: But you survived whereas Jane Powell did not.
DR: We made two films in a row --Athena and Hit The Deck--and then her contract lapsed. Musicals were no longer the rage so I did The Tender Trap opposite Frank Sinatra and I had a whole new career as a comedienne including Tammy And The Bachelor and The Mating Game.
JB: Then came some very big years.
'DFR: When my husband Eddie Fisher left me! It gave my career a weird boost. And I made It Started With A Kiss, The Gazebo and my favorite comedy The Pleasure Of His Company with Mr. Astaire and Lilli Palmer as my parents.
JB: You did go back to MGM for The Unsinkable Molly Brown in 1964.
DFR: That was me. I'm unsinkable. I got the character right away.
JB: Why did your TV series The Debbie Reynolds Show )1964) bomb.
DR: Because they wanted me to be Lucy instead of just Debbie. So It was an imitation kind of show. And The next one Aloha Paradise (1981) that was just a big stinker.
JB: You just stopped making movies around that time?
DR: Because I didn't fit in at all. It was Mr. Mayer who told me "Never show your ass." Best advice I ever got. What he meant was leave something to the imagination of the audience. Today everything is so sordid. I stay at home and watch old movies.
JB: You're also a collector.
DR: I go top all the auctions of movie props. I have a warehouse filled with stuff and someday I'll open my own museum.
JB: Future plans:
I go on the road 20 weeks a year. They loved me in Australia. I do Vegas, many dates with the local symphonies. I'm a brand. Goodness had everything to do with my success.
Then the bells rang and Reynolds ran out dressed as a very tiny New York city cop and just to wake up the sleepy crew she launched into a refrain of "Singin In The Rain."
Tuesday, December 27, 2016
I lost a lot of friends in the entertainment industry in 2016.
Here's my personal list of the ones I remember most fondly:
Earl Hamner Jr: I met the personable writer on the set of The Waltons at Warner Bros. studios before the series had premiered on CBS.
Doris Roberts: I interviewed the great TV comedienne when she was in Toronto tub thumping for her hit Everyone Loves Raymond.
Robert Vaughan: My interview with the star of The Man From U.N.C.L.E took place in his limo parked in North York --he was making a TV movie with Karen Black that never aired.
Florence Henderson: She was as sweet as her image the day we met on the L.A. set of The Brady Brides.
Agnes Nixon: I had lunch with the soap opera maven at New York city's Hotel Carlyle before going on the set of her greatest soap hit Another World.
Zsa Zsa Gabor: I had to go out to Toronto's Pearson Airport to meet the Hungarian extrovert who was flying back from Switzerland after co-starring in the "Canadian" series George.
Hugh O'Brian: The former Wyatt Earp was as nice as his image when I interviewed him in Toronto.
George Kennedy: I met him on the set of one of those Airport disaster movies where he confessed his fear of flying.
Morley Safer: I met him in his CBS office in New York city and we watched the inauguration of President Jimmy Carter.
Alan Young: The Canadian actor was well into his Eighties and co-starring with Glynis Johns in a new CBS sitcom when I shared a lunch in the Universal commissary.
Alan Thicke: A constant source of interviews for my TV column he was as multi-talented as they get,
Brian Befords: I met BB up at Canada's Stratford where he was a constant jewel.
Marnie Nixon: She warbled the songs in such movie hits as The King And I and My Fair Lady but never got a movie hit of her own,
Arthur Hiuller: I Met the great Canadian director in the Academy Awards library--he was researching his next movie hit.
Garry Marshall: I was first introduced to GM on the set of Happy Days --he was as likable as they come.
Ken Howard: I met him on the set of The White Shadow and he kept in touch even after his kidney transplant.
Gordie Tapp: I had many conversations with this Canadian great and I treasure his friendship.
Dave Broadfoot: A sort of Canadian Will Rogers his humor was uniquely Canadian.
Grant Tinker: Interviews in his MTM corner office were among the best I ever conducted.
Gordie Howe: Met him at Alan Thicke's home in L.A. And he was wry and humble,the greatest of the hockey greats.
Don Francks:I met him in Toronto's Hollywood Canteen.What a surprise!
Sunday, December 25, 2016
I wasn't entirely surprised to learn of the passing of Canadian comic icon Dacve Broadfoot.
For years he'd been declining luncheon invitations saying he just wasn;'t up to it.
But his passing in November saddened me immensely.
Starting in 1973 he was the steady comedic rock for 15 seasons of CBC's Royal Canadian Air Face.
'I first met him in person in 1975 when RCAF was performing two radio specials taped at Hamilton Place --I was then The Spectator's TV/Radio Critic.
The other cast members --Roger Abbott, Don Ferguson, John Morgan and Luba Goy clearly revered this great figure and in rehearsals he was meticulous in his craftsmanship.
Just a year or two later I met Broadfoot on King Street in Hamilton --dressed as the honorable member for Kicking Horse Pass--he was headed to the Royal Connaught hotel to address a luncheon convention.
One old lady had already accosted him on the street shouting "You're a sorry example of a member of Parliament"--and Broadfoot was grinning from ear to ear.
Other famed characters included Sergeant Renfrew of the RCMP and hockey player Big Bobby Clobber.
Broadent got his start on CBC Radio on such favorites as the Big Revue and Wayne And Shuster.
"Everything I knew about TV comedy I learned from Wayne and Shuster," he once told me.
"They simply assumed a degree of intelligence among the audience and their comedy skits were glacially paced compared with today. They put characterization first."
I remember interviewing him in 1995 for his CBC TV special.
He said at one point in the show "What is our culture? It's gathering up every useless thing you've acquired throughout your life, putting it on tables on your front lawn and making other people pay for it."
I would have though CBC would dig out that TV special and show it as a testament to Broadfoot's comedic genius.
One of the gems from that show had Broadfoot contemplating on the peace and tranquility he always found on Canada Day in Quebec.
He was born in Vancouver in 1925 and served in the Royal Canadian navy during World War II.
He looked startled when I told him as a teenager in the early 1960s I'd saved up my allowance and got into a cabaret performance given by Broadfoot and his equally talented wife comedienne Jean Templeton.
When he joined Air Farce in 1973 "I was considered the old geezer of the bunch. I'd say during rehearsals 'Mo--that won't work. We tried that in 1955 on stage.'"
One of his biggest admirers was British legend John Cleese who had seen Broadfoot in Britain in the 1950s in a revue titled Clap Hands.
'Other revues he starred in during his toronto years: Take A Beaver To Lunch and, of course, Spring Thaw.
"I was on Ed Sullivan as early as 1955," he smiled.' "But I never wanted to ditch my country for American stardom. Never!"
His wonderful autobiography Old Enough To Say What I want was published in 2003. I treasure my copy.
He was named to the order of Canada in 1983 and in 2003 was presented with the Governor General's Performing Arts Award.
One of his biggest thrills he told me was appearing at a gala Royal Benefit in Winnipeg as the honorable member for Kicking Horse Pass and looking up to the box seats to find both Prince Philip and Her Majesty doubled over with laughter.
And I miss him already.
Thursday, December 22, 2016
What a thrill it was meeting Gordie Tapp on the set of the CBC TV series The Tommy Hunter in 1972.
My dad was an original fan when Tapp was headlining Main Street Jamboree out of radio station CHML in beautiful, downtown Hamilton.
'"When I told Gordie he laughed and said 'Your dad has great taste, son!'"
After Hamilton stardom he moved over to CBC-TV and nine seasons of the live country series Country Hoedown.
Two youngsters Tapp mentored on CBC-TV were Tommy Junter and Tommy Common.
As Tapp told me "When CBC had to chose one for a new hourlong variety series Hunter was chosen although Common was better looking and had the greater voice. Tommy Hunter was chosen because of his great personality and the way he connected with TV viewers."
Tapp then ventured south to co-star for CBS in a new country music series Hee Haw.
"It was number one in ratings but CBS cancelled it after two seasons (in 1971). It then went on for 20 more years in syndication. CBS cancelled all those corn pone series like Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres and Jim Nabors.
"Sure the show was pure corn. We'd tape a full series in a couple of weeks working nonstop in Nashville TV studios. Then the blackout sketches, comedy routines and songs would be pieced together in the editing suites.
Two great Canadian producers Frank Peppiatt and John Aylesworth were the creators and our cast included Buck Owens, Roy Clark and such staples as Junior Samples, Jeannine Riley, Minnie Pearl and even Barbi Benton."
Tapp wasn't the only Canadian present: Don Harron was also onboard as Charlie Farquarhson.
That day on the CBC set I noticed how pleasant Tapp was --he blended right in and never asked for special favors because of his star status. The crews even laughed at his bad jokes.
And Hee Haw finally faded in 1992 but I'm sure somewhere out there somebody is watching the boxed DVD set even as I write this.
As For Tapp he retired to his farm in North Burlington although he made TV commercials for Ultrasonic Beds and tub thumped for the March of Dimes and Ester Seals Society.
'I can only report that he completely lived up to his image as one of country music's ace gentlemen.
Wednesday, December 21, 2016
I started interviewing Alan Thicke way back in the 1970s when I was the TV critic for The Hamilton Spectator.
He was always a character --very much into self promotion with a degree of self assurance I rarely met in an entertainer.
And that's because he was multi faceted --he was a superb producer of TV specials featuring the likes of Anne Murray.
He always wanted a breakfast interview at Toronto's King Edward hotel and would select a table in the middle of the dining room where he could be seen by everyone/
And he wrote the opening jingles for many hit TV shows.
When I first met him he was hosting a daily afternoon talk show on CTV although he lived in Los Angeles.
Thicke would fly into Vancouver every other weekend and tape 10 shows in two days which was an arduous task but hard work never bothered him.
Later we re-met in Hollywood when he was jump starting his own syndicated U.S. talk show and he took me on a tour of the studios.
But he never got traction because he had to tape several shows a day and competition for guests against Johnny Carson simply proved too much.
Later I interviewed him when he was in his element ---starring as one of the great TV dads in the vastly popular ABC sitcom Growing Pains.
He co-starred as psychiatrist Jason Seaver and the series ran for seven seasons from 1985 to 1992.
But TV stardom never morphed into a big movie career and Thicke seemed unsettled to me when we later met and he was show-less.
I remember one time when he phoned to confirm an L.A. lunch date and said he was bringing along his house guests --Gordie and Colleen Howe.
The lunch was hilarious with Allan fondly teasing Colleen and getting some laughter out of the normally taciturn Gordie.
It's entirely appropriate that Thicke died after playing hockey --he was after all 69 and told me he was fighting the inroads of old age with everything he had.
He openly admitted he had his haire tinted auburn and used techniques to soften the wrinkles on his face.
Most of all I'll remember Allan for his great delight in bering Canadian.
"There's always a lot of Kirkland Lake in me," he joked of his birthplace.
And in a terribly savage and competitive business what I liked most about Thicke was his sheer niceness --his most endearing Canadian trait of all.
Wednesday, December 14, 2016
Best news of the festive season is the return of Royal Canadian Air Farce for the annual New Year's hour long special.
But since New Year's Eve falls on a Saturday this year you can catch the special a day earlier on Friday December 30 at 8 p.m.
Then the repeat will be on Saturday night following the love NHL game at around 10 p.m.
And there's a third time to catch it Sunday January 1 at 7 p.m. Got all that?
I even got to attend last Friday's taping of the "hour" which took three hours at CBC's Toronto studios because skits had to be repeated and sets had to be dismantled and others nailed into place.
The audience took all these delays with good humor --the audience was an older one although I noticed a smattering of kids and teens as well.
I've been covering RCAF since the gang first appeared at Hamilton Place in 1976 for tapings for their CBC Radio show.
And the passage of time means Dave Broadfoot, Roger Abbott and John Morgan have all passed.
Only Don Ferguson and Luba Goy are still around from those days.
Well, times change and there were decades when Goy was the only female comic present.
This time out Jessica Holmes is present along with Emma Hunter and Aisha Alfa (The Beaverton), Craig Lauzon, and Darryl Hinds (Little House On The Prairie).
Meaning for the first time in RCAF history the gals outnumber the guys, am I right?
I'm not giving anything away by stating there are such special guest stars as Peter Mansbridge, Yannick Bisson, Ron MacLean, plus politicos Tom Mulcair, Elizabeth May and Scott Brison.
There was a first taping Thursday night and some of the skits were taped then.
I never know what will get in and what must be excised for time --an hour on CBC these days runs 48 minutes.
First up was a jolly skit featuring the likes of Laura Secord, Nellie McClung, Mary Pickford and it got big laughs I can report.
But the gang did it all over again with the quip "Welcome to the Re-enactors Club." In between skits the gang intermingled with audience members in the front row.
"I'm about to do my Celine Dion" was one quip that got a huge ovation.
In between Farce Films ran selected spoofs of TV commercials. Captain Obvious got his due knocks. A Loblaws commercial was first class. I also liked Craig's parody of Justin Trudeau.
A Putin meet with Trump was well written.
Also neat was something called Census Jail and a spook of Brexit had Kate trying to get rid of aged Queen Liz.
And the F-Bomb reigned supreme--I could tell you the targets but I won't.
I thought all the skits I previewed were fast and funny but not all can be included in the edited TV version.
A few days later I talked to Emma Hunter on the phone--I've become a nig fan of her rambunctious comedy style..
I'm a big fan having seen her on episodes of Pop Quiz and her hilarious efforts to get under the skin of resolute quizmaster Devon Soltendieck.
"We taped five episodes a day for a total of 60 half hours and they're still playing to high ratings."
First of all she's from Etobicoke which explains a lot although there are traces of an English accent courtesy of her parents. She's also been in the series The Beaverton and Mr. D and last year was in a NBC comedy pilot that didn't sell.
This year she can't go down to L.A. for the annual pilot season because as she announced to the startled audience "I'm pregnant" and she pointed to her husband who was sitting directly in front of me.
I think Hunter, Holmes and Alfa would be great additions with the older regulars should CBC ever decide to remount RCAF as a weekly half hour series.
One big problem: the costume and prop departments had a fire sale and have ceased to exist.
"But there will be a summer special to mark Canada's 1250th Anniversary," Hunter assures me. "We're already thinking of ideas for that."
RCAF NEW YEAR'S EVE SPECIAL: PREMIERES ON CBC FRIDAY DECEMBER 30 AT 8 P.M.
THE FITRS REPEAT IS ON SAT. DECEMBER 1 AT 10 P.M. WITH A SECOND REPEAT SUN. JANUARY 1 AT 7 P.M.
Sunday, December 4, 2016
So there I was in Los Angeles in July 1972 and the chief publicist for CBS Mary Lamm was driving me to the set of a new series titled The Waltons.
"Hasn't premiered yet," she told me as her car zoomed through the back lot at Warner Bros.
We stopped at an imposing soundstage and inside the interiors of the Walton family home had been laid out. It was lunch break so there were no actors present.
Then we walked over to an administrative building and into the offices of creator Earl Hamner Jr. Hamner died in March 2016 but I haven;t had time until now to salute this kind and courageous man.
First reaction: he sure was homespun as he related true tales of his life in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Hamner had recounted childhood memories in the 1963 novel Spencer's Mountain which Warners had made into a 1963 flick with Henry Fonda and Maureen O'Hara "which I positively loathed."
I immediately typed him as a courtly Southern gentleman but this day there were tears in his eyes.
His pet turtle was sick, he confessed. Or was it his secretary's?
We talked about many things that afternoon particularly his thesis that Canadians were lost Southerners --or rather Tories loyal to the British crown who had to emigrated to Canada but never lost their heritage.
Hamner was born in 1923 in Schuyler, Vermont, the oldest of eight children --three girls, five boys and "all tow heads".
"Dad was a machine operator in Waynesboro who lived away from the family but walked home on weekends the entire six miles and "this was the inspiration for the 1971 special introducing the family to TV viewers."
CBS snapped it up as a potential series to star Richard Thomas.
"It broke my heart when they said our original actors Pat Neal and Andrew Duggan were too old to play the parents in the series. But the network had full casting rights. And the substitutes were Michael Learned and Ralph Waite. Then Edgar Bergen said he wouldn't do a series and he was replaced by Will Geer."
Hamner once said --but not to me --that Richard Thomas made a better John Boy "than I ever could."
But here's the catch: CBS scheduled the new series Thursdays at 8 directly opposite NBC's Flip Wilson then the number one U.S. series.
Hamner showed me the letter from the CBS president which merely stated "Make us proud."
And CBS then forked over $4 million dollars for set contruction and casting.
By the second season Flip Wilson had been destroyed and The Waltons was number two in the national ratings although it always underperformed in the great cities.
Hamner opened and closed every episode with his narration and each episode famously closed with the siblings saying goodnight to each other.
Over the years The Waltons garnered 39 Emmy nominations including 13 wins and in 1873 was names best drama series.
In 1981 The Waltons closed and Hamner's second show went into production for Lorimar: Falcon Crest.
Again I was back in his office as he explained this one: _The Waltons was about a family with no money. Falcon Crest is about a family with too much money."
Hamner wanted to cast Barbara Stranwyck as the imposing matriarch but wound up with Jane Wyman.
Both invited me to a press screening that was a disaster.
The pilot was titled The Vintage Years and had Wyman in a white wig with a crazy daughter up in the tower.
As the lights came on Wyman took over, ordered several cast members fired and virtually produced a new pilot that was a hit.
The series lasted nine seasons but Hamner quit after the fifth season because "it's really not my kind of show." THe reality was it made more money for him as creator than The Waltons.
Hamner was drafted in 1943 and later attended the University of Cincinnati where he wrote his first script --for the Dr. Christian series, He worked as a staff writer for NBC Radio in New York.
He later wrote eight scripts for CBS's The Twilight Zone and later wrote for such series as Gentle Ben, Nanny And The Professor and Apple's Way another series he created.
His wife Jane was an editor at Harper's Bazaar and they had two children Scott and Carole.
But I'll always remember that first time in his office in 1972 and his fearless prediction The Waltons "just might last a season or two."
Friday, December 2, 2016
I haven't thought of TV icon Grant Tinker in some time.
But the news that he had died at his Beverly Hills home aged 90 hit me hard and I'm still trying to digest it.
I was lucky to get two long interviews with Tinker, the unassuming TV genius who changed the face of American television.
I remember a huge party hosted by Tinker and his then wife Mary Tyler Moore at Chasens eatery in Beverly Hills--it was on the second floor and there were 100 U.S. TV critics present.
At each table sat an MTM star.
MTM studios was then (in 1977) the premiere TV studio churning out such hits as Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart, Rhoda, Phyllis.
"I get more requests for the tapes of Texas Wheelers," Tinker told me with a laugh. "It's one that failed because it was in the wrong time slot.
Originally an advertising executive, Tinker later became head of Universal TV and was responsible for such hits as Marcus Welby before going out on his own.
His first creation was The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970) starring wife Moore and stocked with a gaggle of scene stealers including Asner, Harper and Leachman --later Betty White would join the cast.
The show had a run of seven years and as Tinker told me "We should have tried for a few more years."
Spinoffs included Rhoda, Phyllis and Lou Grant and the easy going Tinker said he merely rounded together the best available writing talent including Jim Brooks and Allan Burns.
It was a formula replicated in such later quality series as The White Shadow and Hill Street Blues.
"Rhoda was a big hit at first," Tinker said. "Phyllis bombed because she was too outrageous a character to be front billed. Lou Grant was a completely different challenge --a sitcom co-star who was changed into a dramatic figure."
When I first visited Tinker he had the corner office in MTM Studios which had started out as Republic studios. It wasn't a huge, imposing place but comfy with a lot of sofas because Tinker spent his days working with his writers and producers.
Later I met him again when he was president of ailing NBC which he turned around with such quality series as Cheers and Hill Street Blues.
When cable came in and the big networks started leaking viewers Tinker told me "I guess I miss the days of the Big Three networks but I admit there were too many cookie cutter shows. We should have tackled more cultural shows instead of madly dashing for ratings with sometimes inferior series."
Betty White once told me "When Grant and Mary separated in 1980 I was floored. My husband and I went out to dinner with them that very night and they were completely civil and I wanted to cry. An era was ending that night."
When I later asked Tinker at a press conference what he thought of Moore's decision to return to sitcoms in 1985 he quipped : "She'd better hurry at her age is all I can say."
Then he immediately said "Don't print that. I was being very catty."
Later I interviewed his son John Tinker on the set of his series St. Elsewhere and thought how much he resembled his father in his insistence on quality.
MTM Studios no longer exists. The studio was sold off, but MTM Productions can still be seen in reruns.
But the Tinker touch of magic is still being practised in a handful of shows that focus on quality and highlight fine writing anmd casting.