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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.