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 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, Phyllis 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.Ultimately MTM 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).
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.
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.
Also Mary on more than one occasion. note One example is the episode "Put on a Happy Face"; Mary's up for a Teddy award, which she's sure she won't win but feels an obligation to attend since she's nominated. At first her only problem is that she has no date, but things go downhill from there. She sleeps on her hair wrong so that it's lopsided at work. On the way to the washroom to try to fix it, she slips and sprains her ankle. After going to the hospital, she catches a cold from soaking her foot. Then the almost brand new dress she planned to wear is ruined by an inept cleaner and she needs to borrow an ugly-looking one (by 1970s standards) from Rhoda. After that, desperate not to go to the awards alone, she takes Ted up on his earlier offer to fix her up with a guy who's kind of like a "good-looking Robert Redford", at which time he tells her "April fool!" and reveals that the guy is him. Ted shows up and is appalled by Mary's appearance (her dress, her flat hair because her hair dryer broke, and her being sick) and is very reluctant to be seen in public with her. On the way to the awards, Mary gets rained on and steps in a puddle. When they get there, Ted pretends that she's his sister and a last-minute replacement for his real date. Then Mary loses one of her false eyelashes at the table...and that's when she's invited onstage in front of dozens of people to receive the Teddy that she ended up winning after all:
"Hi, Guys!" (Ted Knight even recorded a novelty record based on it), "Ohhhhh, Mr Grantttttt."
Phyllis has "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: "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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
"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.
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...
"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.
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.
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.
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."
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.