Series: The Mary Tyler Moore Show
aka: Mary Tyler Moore
"Sometimes I get concerned about being a career woman. I get to thinking my job is too important to me, and I tell myself that the people I work with are just the people I work with and not my family. And last night, I thought, what is a family, anyway? They're just people who make you feel less alone, and really loved. And that's what you've done for me. Thank you for being my family."
Legendary 1970s CBS
comedy created by James L. Brooks
and Allan Burns, which forever reshaped sitcoms. Every workplace sitcom
since bears its influence.
Moore stars as Mary Richards, a thirty-something single woman living in Minneapolis
and working as associate producer in the newsroom of fictional TV station WJM.
The show was famous for the quality and depth of its writing, particularly the attention and care given to supporting characters such as Lou Grant (Edward Asner
), Rhoda Morgenstern (Valerie Harper), Murray Slaughter (Gavin MacLeod), Ted Baxter (Ted Knight), and Phyllis Lindstrom (Cloris Leachman). Even "Happy Homemaker" Sue Ann Nivens (Betty White
), who could have been played as merely two-dimensional, was given some measure of depth.
The show was also one of the first to feature a single woman as the main character, and to focus on her career rather than love life. As originally scripted, Mary was to have been recently divorced. This was considered too controversial in 1970 (plus, in a case of classic Executive Meddling
, network brass was afraid the viewers would think
that Moore's Dick Van Dyke Show
character, Laura Petrie, had gotten divorced from Rob), so her Back Story
was changed to one of rebuilding her life after a broken engagement.The Mary Tyler Moore Show
was the first series produced by MTM Enterprises (founded by Moore and then-husband Grant Tinker), which would be responsible for several of the most popular and acclaimed shows of the '70s and '80s. In its seven-season (1970-77) run, the show won 29 Emmy Awards (a record that held until Frasier
won its 30th in 2002) and a Peabody Award, and spun off three other series: Rhoda
and Lou Grant
. (The latter being one of the few instances where a comedy series spawned a drama
One of its episodes, "Chuckles Bites the Dust", is widely considered to be one of the funniest sitcom episodes ever.
One of the many tropes it established was the recurring gag about Mary's disastrous parties. Friends
similarly has built continuity around its Thanksgiving episodes, Frasier
had catastrophic Halloweens, and Buffy
typically had ruinous birthdays.
According to a book by J. Michael Straczynski
, if a writer watches this and Fawlty Towers
they will have had the best possible grounding in how to write comedy.
is best remembered for the depth and humanity of its characterizations, while never sacrificing the funny. Oh, and the hat-throwing scene in the intro.
This show provides examples of:
- Actually Pretty Funny: There are a few points in the series where Murray can be seen smiling/chuckling after getting an insult from Sue Ann or Ted (mostly having to do with his baldness).
- The Alcoholic: Lou, though this is mostly played for laughs.
"I've seen lots of guys get loans to open bars, and the only security they had was that I was gonna drink there."
- Assumed Win: The "Teddy Awards" episodes.
- Back for the Finale: Rhoda and Phyllis.
- Beware of the Nice Ones: Murray's wife Marie. She is sweet natured and soft spoken, but when she finds out that Murray, who is a compulsive gambler, was at a poker game, she gets PISSED.
- Also Mary when pushed too far. One episode has Mary put in charge of a new upbeat News format and Ted is not happy when he finds out that he will be playing the straight man to Gordy. When Ted starts to add comments to Mary's Editorial, she snaps and say's "Shut Up, Ted" on live TV. Surprising everyone, including herself.
- Big Ego, Hidden Depths: Former Trope Namer (Ted Baxter Close Up).
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Phyllis and Sue Ann frequently verge on this.
- Black Comedy Burst: "Chuckles Bites the Dust"
- Bland-Name Product: Mary buys Bess a "Fast Wheels" (Hot Wheels) racing car set.
- Rhoda and Murray join Calorie Cutters(Weight Watchers).
- Brick Joke: In one episode Ted spends an undeserved $6,000 tax refund check on gifts for his friends. Mary is taken aback at the fine Sterling Silver pitcher she was given saying how embarrassed she was that she had only given Ted and Georgette a blender for their wedding. Georgette assures her it was the nicest one of the three blenders they got. Fast forward through the plot as the IRS audits Ted and he begs his friends to say he took them out to business lunches that he deducted. Mary enters the newsroom to find flowers on her desk marked "Roses are Red/And here's a bunch/please tell the IRS man/I took you to lunch.". Murray comments "Is that all you got? I got a blender."
- In "Chuckles Bites the Dust", Ted gives Mary an ugly mobile sculpture early in the episode. At the end during the coda, she offers it to anyone who wants it.
- Butt Monkey:
- Also Mary on more than one occasion. note
- The Bus Came Back: "Hail the Conquering Gordy"
- The Cast Showoff:
- "Murray Can't Lose" gives Georgia Engel (Georgette) a chance to show off her singing and dancing skills with a big musical production number to the song "Steam Heat."
- Subverted in the same episode with Mary, who suggests putting herself in the talent show but thinks better of it after trying out a hilariously inept attempt to sing "One For My Baby."
- Catch Phrase:
- Ted's "Hi, guys!" (Ted Knight even recorded a novelty record based on it.)
- Mary's "Ohhhhh, Mr Graaant!"
- Phyllis's "Hi hi!"
- Chain Letter: "Don't Break the Chain" has Lou passing one of these along to Mary.
- Chekhov's Hobby: In "Mary Midwife," Lou mentions that he once delivered a baby when he was in the Army. Five minutes later, Georgette goes into labor and Lou is called upon to deliver the baby.
- Christmas Episode / Crappy Holidays: "Christmas and the Hard-Luck Kid II" (the title references a '60s That Girl episode, which James L. Brooks had scripted) has Mary roped into working at the station on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, while "Not a Christmas Story" has the WJM staff trapped by a blizzard while Sue Ann films a Christmas episode of her Happy Homemaker show...in November.
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Rhoda's sister Debbie and Phyllis's brother Ben were both written out of existence on the characters' respective spinoffs.
- Class Reunion: "Didn't You Used to Be...Wait...Don't Tell Me"
- Clip Show: The third-to-last episode mostly features clips from Mary's earlier disastrous parties.
- Closer to Earth: Georgette is always more down-to-earth and sensible than Ted, and Murray's wife Marie is usually the more practical one in their relationship.
- Commuting on a Bus: In seasons 3 through 5, with Cloris Leachman doing more movie work after winning an Oscar for her role in The Last Picture Show, Phyllis went from appearing in half the episodes to only three or four episodes a year.
- Compressed Vice: In "Mary's Insomnia," Mary gets addicted to sleeping pills and gets over her addiction within a single episode.
- Cousin Oliver: Literally: Ted and Georgette's adopted son David is played by Robbie Rist, who played Oliver on The Brady Bunch.
- Covert Pervert: Mary sometimes hints at this.
Lou: Mary, do you know what it's like to wake up next to a stranger?
- Curtain Call: The show famously ended with the cast breaking character and having Mary Tyler Moore pay tribute to her castmates.
- Cute Kitten: Mimsie, the MTM Vanity Plate (and Mary Tyler Moore's real-life pet).
- Da Editor: Lou.
- Deadpan Snarker: Rhoda, Lou, Murray, and occasionally Mary herself.
- The Ditz: Ted and Georgette each embody this trope, although really, Ted takes the crown. Georgette's ditziness was rather mild, but it was emphasized by her extreme sweetness and naivete.
- The Feeb formerly known as Randy qualifies as well. In a hilarious episode (appropriately titled "Feeb"), Randy is so incompetent as a waitress that sweet, non-confrontational Mary actually complains about her, and Randy is fired. Residual guilt means Randy winds up hired as Mary's assistant at WJM, where she continues to be inept at everything, including being unable to type or file, and constantly referring to Lou as "Mr. Graham." The ditziest thing of all about her is that she doesn't seem to realize she's terrible and on the verge of being fired again.
Mary: The point is, I don't want to get you fired again. I'll do anything to help. I'll come in early, I'll stay in at lunch hours. I'll even work late, if it''l help.
Randy: Oh, gee. Thanks, Mary.
Mary: Okay, so what do you say we get started tonight, huh?
Randy: Oh, you mean you want me to stay and work late too?
- Dream Sequence: "Mary's Three Husbands" has Lou, Murray, and Ted each imagining what it would be like to be married to Mary, which breaks the fourth wall in that Mary refuses to act out Ted's dream of a romantic honeymoon.
- Early Installment Weirdness: Murray was originally intended to be Mary's Sitcom Arch-Nemesis, but Gavin McLeod's inner sweetness caused him to change after the first episode.
- The Eponymous Show: Literally; the actual onscreen title simply reads "Mary Tyler Moore".
- Freudian Slip: Mary: "I'd love to interview Robert Redford, if the opportunity ever arouse... arose."
- The Fun in Funeral: "Chuckles Bites the Dust"
- Grand Finale: The first to introduce what is now known as the Stock Sitcom Grand Finale.
- Group Hug: Famously employed in the finale.
- Guy of the Week: Most of Mary's boyfriends last no more than one episode, even if she doesn't officially break up with them at the end of the episode.
- He Who Must Not Be Seen: Phyllis's husband, Lars.
- Heroic BSOD: Mary has one in the episode "Murray in Love." Lou Grant comes over to Mary's apartment while she is getting ready for a date (in a robe and with a towel on her head). After several failed metaphors, he finally just comes out and tells her that Murray is in love with her and is going to tell her the next day. At that moment, Mary's date shows up. But Mary is too busy having the Heroic BSOD, and she dazedly leaves to go on her date while still in her robe and towel.
- Hypocritical Humor: During the "Chuckles" episode, Mary is horrified at her co-workers' jokes revolving around the titular deceased clown. Fast-forward to the funeral, where they remain appropriately solemn while she completely cracks up at the eulogy.
- Then zigzagged, when the minister for the funeral tells her it's OK to laugh, that Chuckles would have wanted her to laugh and be happy. Cue Mary breaking down and bawling.
- Inadvertent Entrance Cue:
- Happens numerous times, mostly with Ted.
Mary: [discussing disaster coverage on the news] How many big disasters are there in Minneapolis?
- Also used with Mary in Season 7's "The Ted and Georgette Show", as Murray and Lou are complaining about the "ordinary" people who appear on... Ted and Georgette's show.
Murray: Hey Lou, where do they find those guests, anyway? I mean, they're so dull. The night watchmen and the dry-cleaners. It's like they make dollar requirement to get on the show.
Lou: Go figure it out, Murray. Who with any intelligence would want to be on a show like that?
Mary: (enters the room) Hey guys, guess what? I'm going to be a guest on The Ted and Georgette Show next week!
- Informed Attractiveness:
- Mary is consistently portrayed in-universe as, in Murray's words, "so terrifically attractive and desirable that she can probably have any man she wants."
- In "Ted's Temptation", Ted finds a woman, Whitney, who he believes is so beautiful that she "makes Mary look like a dog". Part of this is justified in that Whitney is one of the few women to express a sexual interest in Ted, making her all the more attractive to him.
- Intimidating Revenue Service:
- In "1040 or Fight", Mary gets audited, and to make matters worse the IRS agent develops a crush on her.
- In a later episode Ted splurges on buying gifts for his friends with an undeserved tax refund check which the IRS later wants back.
- Just Eat Gilligan: It's repeatedly shown that the station would do better in the ratings if Ted were replaced by someone competent.
- Karma Houdini:
- Ted Baxter in the finale. His inept reporting skills and high opinion of himself should have gotten him fired, and yet he's the only one who still has a job.
- Also, Rhoda on more than one occasion, often causing Mary trouble and then either blaming Mary herself for it or laughing at her expense. The ultimate example comes in 'Romeo & Mary'. As a pleaded-for favor, Mary agrees to double-date with Rhoda when her beau's friend has no one. The guy turns out to be a stalker. Though played for laughs in an era that didn't quite deal with the darker side of this, his behavior is very much that of a stalker absent true violence. Not even the comical determined pursuit of some shows and films; this guy's behavior is ruinous to Mary's peace of mind, and yes, she does tell him to go away repeatedly. Rhoda's aid to the situation she caused? To crack wise and mock Mary! With Friends Like These......
- Kavorka Man: After Lou's wife divorces him, he demonstrates a surprising ability to attract women. One episode ends with him caught between two women and deciding to date both of them at once, Sue Ann has a crush on him, and in the next-to-last episode even Mary has to admit she's interested in Lou.
- Knock Knock Joke: Ted got stuck trying to come up with one using the name "Anna Maria Alberghetti". He finally figures out a punchline by the end of the episode:
Ted: Anna Maria Alberghetti in a taxi, honey, better be ready 'bout half past eight....
- Large Ham: Phyllis is this in-universe, managing to turn everything into life-or-death drama, even Ted's failed campaign for City Council:
"I believed in us. I felt we had such bright, untarnished hopes for the future. I felt we had mountains to climb, promises to keep. But the light failed, Ted! The dream died!"
- Last Name Basis: Everyone calls Lou by his first name except Mary, who insists on calling him "Mr. Grant." She only calls him "Lou" when she's angry at him or, in one of the last episodes, when they go on a date.
- Last-Second Word Swap / Getting Crap Past the Radar: Sue Ann, of all people, comes within a hair of saying one of the Seven Dirty Words in "The Dinner Party". She's cooking a strawberry swirl for her TV show, which is live. Well, she thinks she's cooking it, but the oven was never turned on. When Sue Ann takes the pan out and turns it upside down to drop the dessert onto a plate, the uncooked mixture falls out and splatters onto the plate and surrounding counter.
Sue Ann: "Oh shhhhhurely that's not what a strawberry swirl is supposed to look like!"
- Left It In: In one episode, Mary is interviewing a male author with the intention of cutting in a tape of Murray asking the questions later. At the end, the author asks Mary out. The final result that is broadcast shows Murray being asked out by the author.
- Likes Older Women: In the episode "It Was Fascination, I Know", Mary finds herself the object of a 15-year-old's affections.
- In "He's All Yours", Mary gets chased after by a new cameraman at the station, who's barely in his 20s.
- Ma'am Shock: "Today I Am a Ma'am"
- MAD: The Mary Tailor-Made Show.
- Manchild: Ted, who cries when he doesn't get his way, whimpers when he's afraid, and giggles at any reference to sex.
- Minnesota Nice: Mary, in spades.
- Ms. Fanservice: A number of episodes, particularly in the early seasons, contrived excuses for Moore to display her celebrated legs. Parodied by MAD, which had Mary declare "time to show off my legs!" and change into a tennis outfit for no reason.
- My Friends... and Zoidberg: "Well Mary, there's something you have to remember about poker. It doesn't matter if you win or lose. It's being involved in a group activity with people you like. And Ted."
- Na´ve Newcomer: Mary kind of started out as one.
- Never My Fault: Phyllis.
"Lars came over to me, put his arm around me, and said 'Darling, don't you think it would be a good idea, in view of the high cost of living, that you try to keep your spending down a little?' I turned to him and said 'Darling, why don't you go suck an egg?' And that's when Lars started the argument."
- Nice Character, Mean Actor: Sue Ann presents the image of a charming, sweet, perfect wife and homemaker on her show. In real life, she's vain, man-hungry and nasty.
- No Guy Wants to Be Chased: Lou's explanation for why Sue Ann's constant advances make him so nervous.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: Georgette. She sounds like The Ditz but is much smarter than Ted, and she frequently gives level-headed advice to other characters.
- Odd Couple: Lampshaded in the episode "Where There's Smoke, There's Rhoda":
Rhoda: Face it, Mare. How long can we keep up this Felix and Oscar routine?
- Official Couple:
- Ted and Georgette starting in the third season.
- In season 6 there was an attempt to give Mary a regular boyfriend, played by Ted Bessell, but the character was dropped without explanation.
- One-Sided Arm-Wrestling: Subverted in that Lou would let the old man win.
- Paying in Coins: Ted owes Murray a few dollars, and keeps putting him off by asking if Murray has change for a $500 bill. At the end of the show, Murray indicates he does this time...in nickels. The bags come out from under the desk...
- Plucky Office Girl: Mary, initially.
- Poorly Disguised Pilot:
- "His Two Right Arms" was a pilot for a proposed series about an incompetent city councilman (played by Bill Daily) and his wacky but competent staff. CBS didn't pick it up to series, and Daily went on to join The Bob Newhart Show a year later.
- Averted with Rhoda, Phyllis and Lou Grant. All of them made their pilots separately from the main series.
- Arguably the episode in which Rhoda invites Mary to her sister's wedding could be considered something of a pilot as it looks like a rough version run-through of Rhoda with a few retools to come, not the least being switching Married Debbie for Single Brenda.
- Promotion to Opening Titles:
- Completely averted. Nobody but Mary Tyler Moore herself was ever named in the show's opening.
- Though, if we're counting ending titles, Georgia Engel and Betty White were added to the main cast in the 3rd and 4th seasons.
- Pun-Based Title: Numerous episodes have this. It's even lampshaded with season 4's "Better Late... That's a Pun... Than Never".
- Put on a Bus: Rhoda moves to New York (and her own show) between seasons 4 and 5. Phyllis moves to San Francisco (and her own show) a year later. Both moves took place offscreen.
- Really Gets Around: Sue Ann Nivens
- Required Spinoff Cross Over: Mary appeared in several episodes of both Rhoda and Phyllis. For Rhoda's Wedding Day two-parter on the former, *all* of the MTM regulars (save for Ted and Sue Ann) showed up.
- Averted, however, on Lou Grant. The only character from MTM to appear was three-time guest character Flo Meredith (Mary's aunt), played by Eileen Heckart.
- Reunion Show
- Running Gag: The Teddy Awards, Mary's disastrous parties (lampshaded in later episodes), Ted's speech about the "five-thousand-watt radio station in Fresno, California", Lou's drinking, etc.
- The Scrooge: Ted. The show had a seemingly endless supply of gags about his reluctance to spend any money, even though he's the highest-paid employee at the station.
- Ship Sinking: Toward the end of the series, the writers addressed the Mary/Lou 'shipping that had become popular among fans (and even among some of the writers) by having Mary and Lou try dating... and break into giggles after they kiss, realizing that they will never work as a romantic couple.
- In later seasons, the opening credits feature two scenes in which Mary is seen interacting with people connected with the show. The first scene shows Mary walking in the park when two joggers run by her: creators James L. Brooks and Allan Burns. The second scene shows Mary dining at a restaurant with an older man: Moore's then-husband, Grant Tinker, who also served as co-founder and president of the show's production company, MTM Enterprises, and would later become even more well known as "the man who saved NBC", when he served as the network's chairman and CEO from 1981 to 1986.
- The opening also has a scene of Mary washing her car while donning a Fran Tarkenton (Minnesota Vikings QB) jersey.
- If you look closely at the WJM program grid on the wall of the Station Manager's office, you'll see My Mother The Car is shown several times a day. This is an in-joke to the Old Shame shared between Brooks and Burns.
- Show Within a Show
- Sitcom Arch-Nemesis: Phyllis, for Rhoda.
- Small Name, Big Ego: Ted Baxter, the former Trope Namer.
- Snowed-In: "The Snow Must Go On" (which combines this trope with The Show Must Go On, hence the punny title); "Not a Christmas Story"
- Special Guest:
- Johnny Carson attends one of Mary's dinner parties. Unfortunately, a power outage strikes just before he arrives, so we only get to hear his voice. His credit in the closing credits, which normally showed the guest, was a black screen.
- Ted Baxter meets Walter Cronkite in one episode.
- Lou's friend does a heck of a Betty Ford imitation.
- Technically, Cloris Leachman was never a full-time regular on the show, and was always billed as "Special Guest Star" for her appearances.
- Spinoff: There were three - Rhoda, Phyllis and Lou Grant.
- And oddly enough, that last one was a drama and it was the most successful one!
- Spiritual Successor: Moore's short-lived 1985 sitcom Mary, which had her playing a recently-divorced woman working at a Chicago newspaper and featured a similar ensemble cast.
- Spotlight-Stealing Squad: Ted was the focus of a hugely increased number of episodes in the last few seasons.
- Stepford Smiler:
- Sue Ann is so into her TV persona as the sweetly helpful "Happy Homemaker" that she acts like that all the time, onscreen and off, smiling even when saying the meanest or dirtiest things.
- Lampshaded in Season 5's "A Girl Like Mary" where Sue Ann has lost the ability to tell whether or not she smiles anymore, as she's been on her segment for so long.
- Stock Sitcom Grand Finale: The Trope Maker.
- Straw Critic: Karl Keller (Eric Braeden) in "The Critic" embodies this trope in its purest form, a Smug Snake who hates everything except obscure European art movies.
- Straw Feminist: Phyllis, who considers herself a great progressive, can be this on occasion.
Phyllis: [after Mary is fired] It's obviously a case of sexual discrimination.
Mary: No, Phyl. They fired the guys, too.
Phyllis: Oh, Mary, you little goose! That was just to cover their tracks!
- Suspiciously Specific Denial: When Phyllis is worried about her brother and Rhoda spending a lot of time together, she reasons that saying anything to dissuade them will probably just bring them closer together. To prevent that from happening she resolves to be "passive, even kindly," and when Rhoda walks into the room a moment later...
Phyllis: "Rhoda...I want you to know, dear...that I am not sick to my stomach over you and Ben."
- Take That: The writers would sometimes put in disparaging references to the cheesy late-'60s sitcoms this show was rebelling against, including Gilligan's Island, The Brady Bunch (re-named "The Clancy Clan") and co-creator Allan Burns's own Old Shame My Mother The Car.
- The Talk: One episode has Phyllis enlisting Mary to give this to her daughter Bess.
- That Didn't Happen: Mary and Lou are both completely squicked out after they kiss.
- Thematic Theme Tune: "Love Is All Around", written and sung by Sonny Curtis. A different version with altered lyrics was used beginning in the second season.
- Twenty Minutes into the Future:
- Lou's idea to have a cameraman ride along in a police car to film an on the spot arrest predated Cops by about 15 years.
- In one episode Ted looked for Coffee Bags ... guess what Folgers and other companies now make.
- Les (Jerry Van Dyke) had the idea to broadcast the WJM 6:00 News from the newsroom...an idea many later newsshows adapted, most notably ABC's World News Now.
- Unlimited Wardrobe: Mary, despite references to her limited clothing budget. Lampshaded by Ted a couple of times.
"Georgette keeps asking me why you have more clothes than she does. I tell her it's because all your outfits are reversible."
- Wacky Guy: Ted verges on this. Most of the wackier plots and tropes involve him.
- Welcome Episode
- We Want Our Jerk Back: Any time Lou acts unusually nice or considerate, his employees take it as a sign that there's something very wrong.
Mary: We have got to do something about Mr. Grant. He hasn't yelled at anybody in days. He's not drinking. This is terrible!
- Averted in the episode in which Ted has a minor heart attack on the air which changes his personality. The gang likes the new Ted and start to adopt his new outlook just as he snaps out of it.
- What Does She See in Him?: Brought up by Mary in the episode where Georgette marries Ted.
Georgette: Mary, I know what you're getting at, and believe me, I know how Ted can be. Nobody knows that better than I do. But I know how I feel.
Mary: You do love him, then?
Georgette: Of course, Mary. Somebody has to!
- Whole Plot Reference: "The New Sue Ann," where a young Loony Fan of Sue Ann plots to take over her show, is a take-off on All About Eve.
- Who Would Be Stupid Enough: Ted on multiple occasions.
- Work Com: The Trope Codifier.
- "YEAH!" Shot: Mary's hat-toss in the opening.
- Yet Another Christmas Carol: Discussed in the episode "Christmas and the Hard-Luck Kid II." After telling Mary she has to work on Christmas, Lou says he has a feeling he will be visited by three ghosts that night.
- You Got Spunk
- You Look Familiar: Linda Kelsey, who plays Sue Ann's sister in one episode, would go on to play Star Reporter Billie Newman on the show's Spin-Off Lou Grant.