When I was really little (I think I had just learned to walk. Really little.), rumor has it that one of my favorite things to do was watch the theme song to The Mary Tyler Moore Show with my parents when they were settling in on Saturday nights to watch. I would run in to the living room with a hat and throw it up into the air at the end, just like Mary. I had no idea what the show was about, but I loved throwing my hat in the air. Love at first sight, sort of.
Over the years, I discovered the show on Nick at Night and other syndicated reruns (Channel 56 in Boston!), and it quickly became one of my favorite shows of all time (in case you are curious, I’d also add The Dick Van Dyke Show, Soap, Rhoda, WKRP in Cincinnati, and maybe MASH to that list of classic shows). I loved watching Mary at work with Ted and Lou, laughed at all of Mary’s terrible dates and even worse parties, and her friendships with Rhoda and Phyllis. And of course, “Chuckles Bites the Dust”.
But I didn’t know much about the show, other than it was the model for pretty much every other successful sitcom that came after it.
So it was with much joy that I tore through Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted. The book tells the history of the show, from the end of Moore’s previous show (Dick Van Dyke), until the present day and its influence on shows like New Girl and Veronica Mars.
The details in the book are amazing — I had assumed that it was tough for women in Hollywood in the 1960s and 70s, but really, was shocked at the difficulties that many faced when trying to get their foot in the door of comedy writing. If your name wasn’t Carol Burnett or Elaine May, Hollywood wasn’t interested. Until two guys named James L Brooks and Allan Burns came along, and shook the sitcom world upside-down. They hired any woman who showed a knack for writing or comedy who was interested. They gave chances to talent who might never have been given opportunities otherwise. And they followed their instincts and put their faith behind a show about a 30-something, single, career woman (which NOBODY in television wanted to see).
I loved reading about the relationships between the actors and production team, and even between the show and its fans. I’m glad to know that Cloris Leachman is as ridiculous in real life as Phyllis and that Ted Knight was a lovely man.
If you are a fan of the show, or of television history in general, I highly recommend this book.