Times Staff Writer

Grant Tinker, soon-to-depart chairman of NBC, gave a tearful farewell address here and included among his thank-yous an implicit one to rival CBS, which NBC overcame this season to record its first victory in the prime-time ratings.

Because CBS executives have been reluctant to acknowledge their network's ratings decline, Tinker said, NBC eventually "could be light years ahead of them."

"It's all very promising to me," he told a standing-room-only crowd Wednesday at the final business session of NBC's annual affiliate stations meeting.

NBC captured the 1985-86 prime-time season with a rating of 17.5, ending a string of six victories by CBS. CBS was second with a 16.7 rating and ABC trailed with 14.9. CBS programming officials have maintained publicly that there is no reason for them to be overly concerned because their ratings were about the same as the previous year.

Of CBS' executives, Tinker said, "If they believe what they're saying--that we had a good year (in the ratings) but they had the same year (this year) they had last year, I really think that they're in worse trouble than they know."

ABC, meanwhile, "is probably the one on the comeback trail," Tinker added.

Other industry officials have made similar observations, based on the theory that ABC, despite its overall weakness, has some fresh hit shows on its schedule, such as "Moonlighting" and "Growing Pains," that are critical for a rebuilding effort, while CBS failed to develop a single new hit last season and is carrying a number of aging programs that may be on the decline, such as "Magnum, P.I.," "Dallas" and "Falcon Crest."

Tinker's remarks came in the middle of his final "observations" before executives from NBC's 207 affiliate stations gathered here at the Hyatt Regency on the island of Maui. At the end of the brief talk, tears came into Tinker's eyes, magnified for all to see on a giant video screen mounted at the front of the hotel ballroom.

Tinker's final "thanks" went to the crowd at large, which responded with a standing ovation.

Later in the day, NBC's No. 1 star, Bill Cosby, took center stage.

Cosby spent the better part of an hour monologizing about familial relationships, the theme of his top-rated "The Cosby Show."

But he also ribbed those affiliates whose stations had left the NBC fold when the network was No. 3 in the ratings a few years ago, then returned when its fortunes began to improve.

"This is a business--you jump when you want to jump," he said. "But it's gonna cost you more to jump back."

The Cosby routine and a fireworks display on the Maui beachfront brought to an end the 3 1/2-day event that also served as NBC's 60th anniversary party.

Tinker noted that he is marking "the same milestone"--he turns 60 later this year. He is also "five years older and 15 pounds heavier" than when he joined NBC as chairman in 1981. "I've gone on 200 transcontinental flights. And that's really more than an older guy should be asked to bear."

Tinker has not said precisely when he will leave the network to set up an independent production company. But he said earlier this week that this affiliates meeting would be his last.

Tinker long ago said that he would leave NBC after getting the network back on its feet. More recently, he stated that he would remain in his post until parent company RCA's purchase by General Electric became official. That happened on Monday.

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