The Mary Tyler Moore Show is a 1970s sitcom starring Mary Tyler Moore (b. December 29, 1936 – d. January 25, 2017), one of America’s most beloved actresses.
Despite the show’s title that was based on Moore’s real name, she played the lead character otherwise named as Mary Richards — a 30-ish single and independent career woman who experiences ups and downs, but not without their bone-tickling moments.
While the show seems dated to today’s standards, there’s no doubt that the The Mary Tyler Moore Show was one of the most progressive and groundbreaking TV sitcoms at the time.
More importantly, it radically changed the society’s perceptions towards working single women. Such type of women were not usually portrayed (or were not portrayed favorably, more likely) in those days, so the show’s concept centering on an unattached and career-driven female was quite novel in the 1970s TV-landia. The Mary Tyler Moore Show is pretty much a feminist sitcom, which inspired more women to take charge of their own lives, loves and careers.
Here are some of the facts that are just as interesting as the series itself.
1. Mary Richards was supposed to be a divorcee
The pilot was originally written as Mary being a divorcee, to illustrate a strong woman surviving a heartbreak. However, audiences didn’t take kindly to the idea of Mary as a divorcee because it meant that she had abandoned Dick Van Dyke, her co-star on the beloved 1960s series The Dick Van Dyke Show. So the story was changed to Mary leaving her fiancee at the altar.
2. Valerie Harper nearly missed out on the role of Rhoda Morgenstern
Harper, of course, became an indelible part of the The Mary Tyler Moore Show cast as Rhoda Morgenstern. Harper almost didn’t get the part simply because she was too attractive. Producers worried that she might unnecessarily steal the show. However, Harper got the role of Rhoda and became one of the show’s most beloved characters. Her role was so successful that Harper got her own spin-off series Rhoda, which ran for five seasons.
3. Jack Cassidy turned down the role of Ted Baxter
Having just played as the egomaniacal actor in the series He & She, Cassidy turned the role down as he didn’t want to be typecast as some of a buffoonish character. The part later went to Ted Knight. However, Cassidy changed his mind and guest-starred on the show’s 1971 episode as Ted’s highly ambitious and egotistic brother.
4. Three spin-off shows were produced as a result of The Mary Tyler Moore Show’s success
The success of The Mary Tyler Moore Show generated three spin-off shows: Rhoda (1974) which ran for five seasons, Phyllis (1975) for two seasons, and Lou Grant (1977) for five seasons.
The Mary Tyler Moore Show broke several grounds in 1970s television, apart from being downright enjoyable to watch. It took home a total of 29 Emmys during its seven-year run. These wins included three trophies for Outstanding Comedy Series.
5. The real homeowner of Mary Richards’ house in the show got annoyed by her home being the show’s filming location
In the show’s first five seasons, Mary Richards lived in a Victorian home in North Weatherly, Minneapolis. The actual homeowner, Paula Giese, claimed that the producers of the show told her that her house would be shot for a documentary, not for a TV series. Once The Mary Tyler Moore Show became popular, Giese’s home suddenly became some sort of a tourist destination, with fans and tour buses showing up day and night on her curb. Naturally, Giese was annoyed.
In 1973 Giese was informed that the cameramen would be back to do some more exterior shots of her house. Giese — who was a political activist — immediately hung a series of “Impeach Nixon” banners outside her home to drive the cameramen away. Her ruse worked, and in season six Mary Richards moved to a new high-rise abode.
6. The production decided to end the show amid its high ratings
After seven long seasons, the producers (including Mary Tyler Moore herself) decided to end the series while it was still performing strongly in the ratings, rather than carrying on, risking a loss in popularity and then getting cancelled. The Mary Tyler Moore Show‘s finale allowed the characters to say their goodbyes to each other, while still within the context of the show. On the finale’s curtain call, Moore got to introduce each of her castmates to the audience just before the end credits rolled — another first in American TV.
7. Moore and Tinker’s company logo was inspired by the MGM lion logo
Moore and her then-husband Grant Tinker announced plans of forming their own company, which was named “MTM Enterprises” based on her initials. Because “MTM” almost sounded like the MGM film studio, someone in the staff meeting suggested that since MTM was a small company, it would be cute to use a kitten meowing like the iconic MGM lion. After visiting a number of animal shelters, they finally picked an orange kitten with the loudest “meow.” She was named Mimsie, who went on to be featured in the company’s logo.
8. The untimely death of Barbara Colby
Actress Barbara Colby was known for her role as Sherry on the series’ several episodes — you may remember her as the woman who designed Mary’s green dress which showed a lot of skin.
Colby also went on to star in the show’s spin-off Phyllis. But her stint there was tragically cut short — she only filmed three episodes before her untimely demise.
In July 1975, Colby was gunned down inside a Los Angeles parking area while she and her male friend/acting colleague walked to their car. Her friend was also shot. Colby was killed instantly, while her friend was able to describe the incident before dying. No robbery attempt was involved. There was no clear motive behind the fatal shooting, nor the killers were identified. The case was never solved.
9. Gavin was supposed to play the role of Lou Grant
Actor Gavin McLeod — chiefly known for his role as Captain Stubing in The Love Boat — was the original choice for the role of Lou Grant. But after reading the part, McLeod asked to read for Murray Slaughter, whom he thought he could play more capably than the gruff and intimidating Lou. The producers agreed with McLeod after another actor Ed Asner read for the part of Lou.
10. Sue Ann Nivens was originally a temporary role in the show
Sue Ann Nivens, the lovable host of “The Happy Homemaker” with a secret sex obsession, was introduced temporarily in season four and quickly became a fan favorite thanks to Betty White. After her first episode, in which she attempted to seduce Phyllis Lindstrom’s husband, and tensions rose as they filmed a cooking segment about a chocolate soufflé, the part became regular. Mary Tyler Moore’s friend and avid viewer, White, accepted the role, and the episode was so well received that Moore brought a real-life soufflé to White’s door the following morning.
The cultural impact of the Mary Tyler Moore Show
The Mary Tyler Moore Show was recognized as one of Time’s “17 Shows That Changed TV” in 2007 for democratizing television for adults and for portraying smart adult conversations. The Mary Tyler Moore Show’s effect may be observed in later TV shows like 30 Rock, which stresses workplace relationships, and Friends, which was influenced by the series ending. Additionally, the program gave rise to three TV series, a two-hour TV movie, and two retrospective specials.
Even after the final episode of the show was aired in 1977, it continued to be popular and was mentioned or mocked in several songs, movies, and TV shows. The Mary Tyler Moore Show cast members reunited in 2013 for a last on-screen performance on the TV Land sitcom Hot in Cleveland. Several movies, notably Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion, have also made reference to the show.
The 1988 St. Elsewhere finale, which won an Emmy, made numerous references to the Emmy-winning final episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. The title song’s popular lyrics and the show’s characters and incidents have all been spoofed on Saturday Night Live, MadTV, and Mystery Science Theater 3000.
The Mary Tyler Moore Show’s influence on TV and popular culture has lasted for a long time and is still evident today.