“The Mary Tyler Moore Show” was groundbreaking for a lot of reasons. Not least of which was its lead character, Mary Richards, “the first kind of really independent single woman,” says Jennifer Keishin Armstrong, author of a new book about Mary Richards, the rest of the gang at the WJM newsroom and the real life people behind the show.
“She’s 30, unapologetically single on television” and it’s from her that we get the single-girl television shows that push boundaries in modern times, from “Sex & the City” to “Girls,” said Armstrong.
But getting Mary Richards to the silver screen wasn’t easy. It was a “different type of comedy than people had seen before” and “CBS didn’t quite know what to make of it at first.” At first, the network tried to get the show’s creators to stick to more traditional story lines. “It is nerve wracking, they put a lot of money in it — it’s a huge commitment for the networks and they’re always very nervous.”
But viewers loved the characters and before long, Mary Tyler Moore became an screen darling — again. Moore had delighted audiences years earlier on “The Dick Van Dyke Show” but found it difficult to regain momentum in her career. Several of her projects before “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” had flopped. “If this show had gone off the rails at any point and it looked like it was going to several times, it would have been really upsetting for her,” said Armstrong.
Moore and her husband, Grant Tinker, formed a production company, MTM Enterprises, when they created the show. It was known as a place where writers were encouraged to take chances. Tinker’s “whole deal was to run interference with the network and to protect his creative teams at all costs.”
And that worked for years — even after “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” went off the air, MTM continued to create well known shows such as “The Bob Newhart Show” and his second show, “Newhart,” as well as “Hill Street Blues,” “Remington Steele,” “St. Elsewhere” and “Mary Tyler Moore” spin-offs “Rhoda” and “Lou Grant.”
And that network meddling that almost derailed “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”? It still happens. But in the other direction — instead of wanting to tone down the show, networks are telling show creators to “put more sex and violence and edginess in.”
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