Mary Tyler Moore Show premiered on CBS in September 1970 and
during its seven-year run became one of the most acclaimed television
programs ever produced. The program represented a significant change
in the situation comedy, quickly distinguishing itself from typical
plot-driven storylines filled with narrative predictability and
unchanging characters. As created by the team of James Brooks and
Allan Burns, The Mary Tyler Moore Show presented the audience
with fully-realized characters who evolved and became more complex
throughout their life on the show. Storylines were character-based
and the ensemble cast used this approach to develop relationships
which changed over time.
program starred Mary Tyler Moore who had previously achieved success
as Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show. As Mary Richards,
a single woman in her thirties, Moore presented a character different
from other single TV women of the time. She was not widowed or divorced
or seeking a man to support her. Rather, the character had just
emerged from a live-in situation with a man whom she had helped
through medical school. He left her upon receiving his degree and
she relocated to Minneapolis determined to "make it on her own."
This now-common concept was rarely depicted on television in the
early 1970s, despite some visible successes of the women's movement.
Richards found a job in the newsroom of fictional television station
WJM, the lowest rated station in its market, and there she began
her life as an independent woman. She found a "family" among her
co-workers and her neighbors. Among these were Lou Grant (Ed Asner),
the crusty news director, Murray Slaughter (Gavin MacLeod), the
cynical news writer, Ted Baxter (Ted Knight), the supercilious anchorman,
and, later, Sue Ann Nivens (Betty White), the man-hungry "Happy
Homemaker." Sharing her apartment house were Rhoda Morgenstern (Valerie
Harper), Mary's best friend, and Phyllis Lindstrom (Cloris Leachman),
their shallow landlady. This ensemble pushed the situation comedy
genre in new directions and provided the show with a fresh feel
The "workplace family," while not new to television sitcoms (Our
Miss Brooks and The Gale Storm Show were among earlier
incarnations of this sub-genre), was redefined in The Mary Tyler
Moore Show. Here were characters easily defined by traditional familial
qualities--Lou as the father figure, Ted as the problem child, Rhoda
as the family confidante, and Mary as the mother/daughter around
whom the entire situation revolved. But the special nature of these
relationships gave the show its depth and humor. Never static, each
character changed in ways previously unseen in the genre. One of
the best examples occurred when Lou divorced his wife of many years.
His adjustment to the transition from married to divorced middle-aged
man provided rich comic moments but also allowed viewers see new
depths in the character, to see behind the gruff facade into Lou's
vulnerability, to grow closer to him. This type of evolution occurred
with all the cast members, providing writers with constantly shifting
perspective on the characters. From those perspectives new story
lines could be developed and these fresh approaches helped renew
a genre grown weary with repetition and familiar techniques.
the program set the standard for a new sub-genre of situation comedy:
the working woman sitcom. Beginning as a determined but uncertain
independent woman, Mary Richards came to represent what has since
become a convention in this type of comedy. Unattached and not reliant
upon a man, Mary never rejected men as romantic objects or denied
her hopes to one day be married. But unlike Rhoda, Mary did not
define her life through her search for "Mr. Right." Rather, she
dated several men and even spent the night with a few of them (another
new development in TV sitcoms). Working-woman sitcoms since, including
Kate & Allie and Murphy Brown, owe a debt to Mary
The program became an anchor of CBS' Saturday night schedule and,
along with All in the Family, M*A*S*H, The Bob Newhart Show
and The Carol Burnett Show, was part of one of the strongest
nights of programming ever presented by a network. From September
1970 until its final airing in September 1977, The Mary Tyler Moore
Show was normally among the top 20 shows. It garnered three Emmy
Awards as "Outstanding Comedy Series" (in 1975, 1976 and 1977).
Moore, Asner, Harper, Knight and White all won Emmy's for their
performances and the show's writing and directing were similarly
honored several times.
show was the first from MTM Productions, the company formed by Moore
and her husband, Grant Tinker. MTM went on the produce an impressive
list of landmark situation comedies and dramas including The
Bob Newhart Show, Newhart, The White Shadow, Hill Street Blues,
St. Elsewhere and L.A. Law. The characters from The
Mary Tyler Moore Show provided the focus for several successful
spin-offs in the 1970s: Rhoda, Phyllis and Lou Grant.
The latter was significant in that it represented the successful
continuation and transformation of a character across genre lines.
In the new show Asner played Grant as a newspaper editor in a serious,
hour-long, issue-oriented drama. MTM Productions developed a reputation,
begun in The Mary Tyler Moore Show, for creating what became
known as "quality television," television readily identifiable by
its textured, humane and contemporary themes and characters.
The Mary Tyler Moore Show
of The Mary Tyler Moore Show have become standard elements
of many situation comedies since its airing. Because numerous writers
and directors worked at MTM and on this show, then moved on to develop
their own productions, its influence is notable in sitcoms such
as Taxi, Cheers and Night Court.
The Mary Tyler Moore Show was also one of the first sitcoms
to bring closure to its story. In its last episode in 1977, the
entire WJM news staff, with the exception of the very expendable
Ted Baxter, was fired. Mary's neighbors, Rhoda and Phyllis, had
departed previously for their own programs. Now the rest of her
"family" was being broken up. Ironically, television brought them
together and now the vagaries of television were separating them--in
the "real" world as well as in their own fictional context. In the
final moments Mary, Lou, Murray, Ted, his wife, Georgette, and Sue
Ann mass together in a teary group hug and exit. Then Mary turns
out the lights in the newsroom for the last time. It was a fitting
conclusion to a program which had become very comfortable and very
real in ways few other programs ever had.
Richards..................................... Mary Tyler Moore
Lou Grant ................................................Edward
Asner Ted Baxter ...................................................Ted
Knight Murray Slaughter....................................
Gavin MacLeod Rhoda Morgenstern (1970-1974)................
Valerie Harper Phyllis Lindstrom (1970-1975)...............
Cloris Leachman Bess Lindstrom (1970-1974).....................
Lisa Gerritsen Gordon (Gordy) Howard (1970-1973)...............
John Amos Georgette Franklin Baxter (1973-1977)....... Georgia
Engel Sue Ann Nivens (1973-1977) ........................Betty
White Marie Slaughter (1971-1977) ......................Joyce
Bulifant Edie Grant (1973-1974) ............................Priscilla
Morrill David Baxter (1976-1977).............................
James L. Brooks, Alan Burns, Stan
Daniels, Ed Weinberger
September 1970-December 1971 Saturday
9:30-10:00 December 1971-September 1972 Saturday
8:30-9:00 September 1972-October 1976 Saturday
9:00-9:30 November 1976-September 1977 Saturday
Alley, Robert S., and Irby B. Brown. Love Is All Around: The
Making of the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Foreword by Grant A. Tinker.
New York: Delta, 1989.
Serifina. "The Mary Tyler Moore Show: Women at Home and at Work."
In Feuer, Jane, Paul Kerr, and Tise Vahimagi, editors. MTM Quality
Television. (London: British Film Institute, 1984).
Dow, Bonnie. "Hegemony, Feminist Criticsm, and The Mary Tyler
Moore Show." Critical Studies in Mass Communication (Annandale,
Virginia), September 1990.
Tyler Moore Show." Newsweek (New York), 29 January 1973.
Tyler Moore Show." Good Housekeeping (New York), February 1974.
"Mary Tyler Moore Show." Time (New York), 28 October 1974.
Lauren. "Sitcoms and Single Moms: Representations of Feminism on
American TV." Cinema Journal (Champagne, Illinois), Fall
also Asner, Ed;
Domestic Settings; Comedy,
on Television; Gender
and Television; Moore,
Mary Tyler; Tinker,