The Mary Tyler Moore Show

The Mary Tyler Moore Show was a landmark TV show that ran for seven seasons, from 1970-1977. It was a ground-breaking show named after it’s central character’s (Mary Richard) real name of the well-known TV actress Mary Tyler Moore. As arguably the first (and many may say the best) true ensemble cast format of situation comedy television, it became popular not only for it’s namesake star but for the entire cast of unique characters. 

Mary Tyler Moore was already a recognizable face by millions of TV households by the time “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” hit the airwaves. As Rob Petrie’s (portrayed by namesake star Dick Van Dyke) wife Laura Petrie, she had already charmed audiences as an adorable and funny all-American sweetheart on the sitcom ‘The Dick Van Dyke Show” from 1961-1966. For The Mary Tyler Moore Show, created by James L. Brooks and Allan Burns, this CBS show’s premise was unlike any other before. Mary Richards was a single career woman in her thirties and the focus was on her life via her friends and co-workers. While it may seem not so earth-shattering today, it was virtually unheard of before this 1970 debut to have a prime-time TV sitcom where the focus was on an independent woman (not a widow, not a divorcee, not even a housewife minus the husband) who was also NOT demonstrating desperate pursuits of a man in her life, but rather on her career and friendships. Mary Richards was very attractive and she dated but she chose real balance in her life that suited her life and was happy with her choices. Her personality was still as bubbly, approachable and funny as she was known to be from her Laura Petrie days, but now she had her own voice and decisions. 

In the very first episode of the first season – “Love is All Around”, aired 9/19/1970- (there was no pilot), Mary Richards is a new transplant to Minneapolis after her fiance rejects her and she shows up for a job interview with her prospective new boss, Mr. Grant (portrayed by Ed Asner). She applies for the secretarial position, which is filled, but is offered the Associate Producer of WJM-TV’s Six O’clock News instead. (WJM is an acronym for “Wild” Jack Monroe, the station’s owner.) The exchange between the two is a hilarious foreshadowing of their unique working relationship of a cranky, cynical boss meeting a spunky, optimistic woman:

Lou Grant: “You’ve got spunk.” [his face smiles for the very first time]
Mary Richards: “Well, yes.” [coyly smiles, almost blushing for the compliment and nods in agreement]
Lou Grant: “I HATE spunk.” [his face dramatically turns back to cranky anger] and the uproar of laughter…  

This is also the episode we are introduced to Phyllis, the landlord who rents Mary her apartment, which in addition to her office setting is the other constant mainstay backdrop of the show. Towards the end of the show’s run she moves into another apartment. But frankly, I was never a fan of the 2nd place- too dark, small and less homey-feeling. Phyllis, who has a flippant teen daughter named Bess, is portrayed by Cloris Leachman (shows 1970-1975). She’s a nosy control-freak and a tad elitist but reflects the current-day activism of women’s rights and comes across as sincere in her own way. Phyllis had a never-seen husband named Lars but became a widow after 5 seasons and moved to the west coast to have her own spin-off show called, “Phyllis.” She has a somewhat contentious relationship with the upstairs’ neighbor, Rhoda. 

Rhoda Morgenstern, portrayed by Valerie Harper (shows 1970-1974), is quite opposite from Mary. Rhoda is an artistic and outgoing free-spirit. She’s also sassy, wise-cracking and self-deprecating. They become best friends and we’re also introduced to Rhoda’s delightfully funny family- her mother Ida (played by Nancy Walker), her younger sister Brenda (played by Julie Kavner) when she gets married in the 4th season and moves to New York City. She also got her own spin-off show, again created by James L. Brooks and Allan Burns, which ran for 4 seasons (1974-1978). 

Back at the office, Sue Ann Nivens, portrayed ingeniously by Betty White (shows 1973-1977), was an incredibly fun character. She was the host of the station’s cooking and homemaking show called The Happy Homemaker. She was drastically different in personality off-camera than in-front. On camera she was the 70’s version of Martha Stewart (in a “Stepford Wife” way). Off-camera she was biting in her flinging insults with Murray and her look-down-upon zingers to Mary. But she was also openly flirtatious with Lou Grant, in an aggressive style. The contrast of her two personalities always was played up flawlessly with hilarious dialogue.

Mary’s closest co-worker pal is Murray Slaughter, portrayed by Gavin McLeod (later known as “The Love Boat” ‘s Captain Stubing.) Murray was married, to Marie, with children. I recall a sweet and tearful episode when they adopted a child. He was the lead writer; an overall nice guy and very easy-going but always loved poking fun at Ted. Portrayed in a unique humor style that only Ted Knight could play, Ted Baxter was the overly-confident news anchor. Vain and tremendously daft, he is the constant center of every joke. Ted was known for his laugh and goofy demeanor. Georgette is Ted’s sweetly delicate and naive girlfriend then wife, portrayed by Georgia Engel (shows 1972-1977). And Ted Knight got a couple of shows of his own too but not spin-offs. The Ted Knight Show ran for 6 weeks in 1978 (about an escort service) and “Too Close For Comfort” which fared far better for 3 seasons and ended production during rerun syndication due to Knight’s illness.       

Ed Asner had a very popular spin-off show titled after his Mary Tyler Moore Show character, “Lou Grant,” from the years 1977-1982. He has remained as a VERY actively working and award-winning actor on television and in film ever since. As you can see, with this full cast of talented actors, it’s no wonder the show was so highly rated and remains a classic today. The Mary Tyler Moore Show earned 29 Emmy awards, (a record that remained unbroken until 2002 when the show Frazier won 30), 3 Golden Globes, a Peabody award and countless honors and nominations. In 2007, TIME Magazine listed “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” as part of the 17 Shows That Changed TV. And it was voted #11 on TV Guide’s 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time.

A recognizable signature of the show was both the opening and closing credit sequences. Most notably, when Mary tosses her beret hat in air and at the closing with the kitten’s meow instead of the typical lion’s roar. By the way, that’s a wig Mary wears in the first season- they didn’t want her to look too close to Laura Petrie and she magically transitioned to her natural hair starting the 2nd season, without a single reference as to why. They also redid the opening sequence after the 3rd season but kept in that iconic beret toss. 

The Mary Tyler Moore Show truly did change television in both quality of excellence in cast talent and writing but also in social conscience. As a little girl, it was wonderful to see Mary Richards as a role model. I wondered how many other little girls wanted to grow up to become an independent career woman like Mary, as I did. I’ve always been known for my different accents and voice impressions so my “Oh Rob!” and “Mr. Grant” were well known by my friends. Many even said I had a bit of a resemblance to Mary Tyler Moore which helped all the more. So I was especially delighted a few years ago when my genealogy-hunting aunts discovered that I was indeed related to Mary Tyler Moore. Absolutely made my day!

 *This post is part of Me-TV’s Summer of Classic TV Blogathon hosted by the Classic TV Blog Association. Go to http://classic-tv-blog-assoc.blogspot.com) to view more posts in this blogathon. You can also go to http://metvnetwork.com to learn more about Me-TV and view its summer line-up of classic TV shows.


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Comments

  1. Loved your post, Kellee! The Mary Tyler Moore show has always been one of my favorites, and it was so interesting to read some things about it that I didn't know — like WJM being named for its owner, and Mary wearing a wig the first season. I found myself smiling all through your post, as I got reacquainted with all of these characters that were such a part of my growing up. Good stuff!

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  2. A couple of years ago I shared the series on DVD with my daughter who had just turned 20. We laughed and cried and bonded over a show I had first watched as a teenager. To this day, Mary and Rhoda are role models. My daughter loves "Lou" and appreciates "Ted". You gave the show an honest and affectionate appraisal. Well done.

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  3. The Mary Tyler Moore Show is just amazing. Still hysterically funny and full of wonderful and memorable characters. I think comparing Murray to Captain Stubing is almost essential when discussing Gavin McLeod because it really shows his range as an actor. I adore him. But I think Lou and Rhoda were probably my two favorite characters. It's hard to choose! Great post!

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  4. Nicely done! I remember as a kid, when this show premiered, being taken by having it set in Minneapolis, which was where I lived at the time. It was cool to see all the downtown buildings that I lived with, right there on television! You're quite right at how much of a landmark series this was for the time, particularly the idea of a single woman (the producers had wanted her to be divorced, but the network wouldn't hear of it), and how much this changed the dynamics of 70s television.Great stuff!

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  5. Only ranked 11th in TV Guide's top TV shows!? Thanks for reminding about the awesomeness of this series–which ranks much higher in my ratings 😀

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  6. I agree with you about the second apartment — it had no character, even if it did have a bedroom. Never knew that about the first-season wig!

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  7. Kellee, as you noted, it was an important–as well as highly entertaining–TV comedy. And, like many of the finest comedies, it could touch on serious issues. However, what I liked best about THE MTM SHOW was how the character complexities were revealed over time. We get to see that Ted, for all his blustering, really does love Georgette. It also reminds me what a good actor can do–Gavin McLeod is so different as Murray and later Captain Stubing that I sometimes forget the same actor played both roles. Kudos for a wonderful pick for this blogathon and an informative, entertaining post.

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  8. Great post, Kellee! You provided lots of interesting background info… My mother loved this show – which got me watching and I came to greatly appreciate it. MTM was such a tremendous actress – the classic one-on-one conversions/interactions between Mary and Lou and between Mary and Murray really made this show special.

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  9. I just bought the first season on DVD because of this review. I hope you're happy! (I am!)

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  10. I have the entire series on DVD. I loved it when it was originally on and I still love it now. It's my favorite TV series, so thank you for paying tribute to it.

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  11. I'm THRILLED you enjoyed my post and it made you smile- that makes me smile too!! It's always fun to discover new things about our favorite TV shows & stars, isn't it? Thanks again for stopping by!

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  12. Thanks so much for the compliments! I'm so pleased you enjoyed this and I love hearing your story about how you and your daughter bonded via the MTM Show. Wonderful! Who knows, perhaps she may do the same with a future child of hers. I love the friendship of Mary & Rhoda. Great characters, as they all were. Thanks again for sharing!

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  13. So difficult to choose a favorite, indeed! I'm happy to hear you enjoyed this show as much as I do. SO much talent on this ONE show! And as truly different Captain Stubing was from Murray, I loved them both. Thanks SO much for reading & commenting on my MTM Show Blog, Amanda!

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  14. Thanks, Mitchell! That must have been fun to watch the MTM Show and feel connected via the Minneapolis references. I discovered in my research that the shot when Mary Tyler Moore throws her beret into the air was filmed at the corner of 7th Street and Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis. In 2002, TV Land erected a statue of her there. They say several buildings there were destroyed by a fire on Thanksgiving night in 1982 so it looks differently now. Many scenes in the opening credits (riding an escalator, window shopping) were shot within a one-block radius of that spot. Very cool! It truly was a landmark show indeed. I loved that they pushed the envelope by showing a REAL life version of single women, instead of playing it safe. Thanks again for reading & commenting!

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  15. I know, right?! I'm with you, this show ranks MUCH higher for me too! Thanks for reading, Joanna!

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  16. I'm so glad you read my post and shared commentary here, Michael. Yeah, that 2nd apartment was not filled with the roomy and warm 'natural' light feel of the first place. I loved her hairstyle in the 1st season so I was bummed to discover it was a wig. Ah well! Thanks again!

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  17. You're right, Rick. It was truly groundbreaking show that has endured. Just like the best comedians and comedy writers, true comedy comes from tragedy first. So the best comedies are more complex and show the other side from time to time. Thanks for hosting this awesome blogathon and thanks for your kind words. SO much fun!!

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  18. Thanks, Jeff! What's great about this show is that through Mary's different friendships- co-workers, neighbors, etc., we see the realistic, often funny and heart-warming friendships that a bright young woman experiences, of both male and female friends. I loved that aspect of the show. I appreciate you reading my post and sharing your own insight,too!

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  19. I AM, Danny!! That's awesome to hear. I'm certain you'll enjoy your investment in laughs and smiles. 🙂 Thanks for reading my post!

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  20. I can see why it's your favorite TV series. I was quite young when it aired originally (ages 4-11). But it still made an impression on me. I enjoyed it all the more in syndication and reruns, when I gained a better perspective and appreciation for all the hilarious talent and groundbreaking importance of this show. Thanks so much for taking the time to read my post and share here!!

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  21. Some writer at Salon wrote an article a while back (I'm too lazy to look for the link) stating that Mary Tyler Moore was no longer funny. Which is why I've ceased to read any more of their TV coverage; they always seem to employ someone for whom classic TV stops around 1980.Watching the show was always a Saturday night ritual for me, and though there was a time when I stopped watching it in reruns because of its overexposure I tune into Me-TV and catch a rerun every now and then. It's still one of the all-time best sitcoms the medium has produced.

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  22. Hi there! I have nominated you for the One Lovely Blog Award. If you already have it or are just not into the blog award thing, please just consider it a friendly nod to how much I enjoy your work!http://moviessilently.com/2013/07/18/i-reveal-seven-secrets-to-earn-the-one-lovely-blog-award/

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  23. Thanks for reading my post, Ivan! How crazy of that Salon writer to say such a horrid thing. Meanie. Hate it when people don't appreciate classic TV & film. ugh. Of course, I'm biased. I'm such a fan of MTM and the MTM Show for so many reasons, I suppose it shows. Happy to hear you are too!

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  24. WOW! Thanks, Fritzi! Appreciate the honor. Plus, those things are so fun to do. Hoping to have some kid-free time to tackle that this weekend. And especially thrilled to hear you enjoy my blog! Right back atcha!

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  25. Great piece on a truly iconic show, Kellee. I think MeTV has it scheduled before Rhoda, which is then followed by the Dick Van Dyke show. If Van Dyke were first in the line-up, the chronology would be perfect. But I quibble. MTM is THE classic sitcom (if not overall series) of the '70s. I defy the Salon writer not to laugh at the "Chuckles Bites the Dust" episode.As your post makes clear, one of the show's greatest strengths was its supporting characters and the actors who portrayed them. It was one of the best comedy ensembles ever on TV – and it was a large ensemble, not just 3 or 4 people. Sue Ann is priceless and I like your description of her as a (hilarious) sort of Martha Stewart/Stepford Wife.

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  26. FANTABULOUS! When I saw you were writing on MTM Show I though, "how appropriate" because, who else can turn the world on with her smile like you – you're contagious! THEN I read that you are actually related to MTM. :-DReally fun post, Kellee. Love this show.Aurora

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  27. A terrific post on one of the best shows ever. Saturday night had such a terrific lineup back then. The whole ensemble cast was great. As Lady Eve said, the "Chuckles" episode was priceless, but there were so many moments that make you smile today just thinking about them — like Mary's never being able to throw a successful party. Great job on Cousin Mary.

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  28. Aww, thanks sweetie!! I gotta admit, I was pretty darn stoked when I found out that I'm actually related to MTM herself. What an awesome show! Thanks again for reading & sharing my post, Aurora!!

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  29. Just like the best films, this show's strength was in its high caliber of supporting cast. I'm tickled that you enjoyed my descriptive of Sue Ann- how true, eh?! And your example of the "Chuckles Bites the Dust" is a hilarious one indeed! (To hell with that Salon writer!) Thanks so much for stopping by!

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  30. Ah yes- the infamous Mary parties. Poor thing couldn't throw a successful party to save her life. But SO many moments were iconic and will be hilarious decades from now- a sign of an enduring classic. Proud of my cousin Mary! 🙂 Thanks for reading, Jacqueline!

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  31. Kellee, great post! The MTM show was life changing for the industry and as you point out, set the trend for television today. I read a great book on the show a few months ago that gave the whole history and background for the show. Especially from the writers perspective. It is called Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted. Or something close to that. Fascinating read! Based on your blog, you would really enjoy it.

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