In the recently published Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted: And all the Brilliant Minds Who Made The Mary Tyler Moore Show a Classic Jennifer Keishin Armstrong offers a fascinating and deeply researched account of how The Mary Tyler Moore Show was put together. The show's creators, James L. Brooks and Allan Burns, are at the center of events but Armstrong gives well-deserved attention to MTMS writers, especially Treva Silverman who wrote fifteen of the series' one-hundred sixty-eight episodes. The witty and insightful work of Silverman and other young women writers gave this series about a young woman an authenticity that was essential to its success.
|Jennifer Keishin Armstrong|
(photo/A. Jesse Jiryu Davis)
Todd VanDerWerff of AV Club calls Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted "an engaging, highly entertaining read of a show that set out to simply be very good and ended up rewriting TV history."
|Moore (front row center) with|
original cast of MTMS, 1970.
|Moore with Van Dyke, TV Guide, 1961.|
After the Van Dyke show ended in 1966 Moore played the lead in a disastrous musical version of Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's (with a script by Edward Albee, no less) that closed before officially opening on Broadway. On the big screen, Moore had a major role in the 1967 box office hit Thoroughly Modern Millie. Still, her film career went nowhere. A variety special reuniting her with Van Dyke brought a relieved Moore back to television. The success of the variety special -- Dick Van Dyke and the Other Woman, airing in early 1969 -- landed Moore, working through her husband, the producer Grant Tinker, a contract for a situation comedy with CBS.
|Moore with Grant Tinker, c. 1970.|
|Moore with Allan Burns (center, looking away) and|
James Brooks (right, with cup), 1971.
|Moore with later MTMS cast, c.1975|
|Treva Sliverman, one of MTMS's|
Initially, CBS held low expectations for this Mary Tyler Moore sitcom and planned to schedule it for a Tuesday night time slot with an incompatible lead-in from the broadly comic The Beverly Hillbillies. CBS was the undisputed ratings king with a roster that included veteran stars Lucille Ball, Red Skelton, and Jackie Gleason, the long-running western Gunsmoke, and popular but innocuous comedies such as My Three Sons and Family Affair. Though CBS dominated overall viewership, the hottest shows of 1970 were NBC's racy comedy revue Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In and the new medical drama Marcus Welby, M.D. on ABC, the perennial also ran network that was beginning to find its stride. Finally recognizing the need to freshen its programming, CBS took a risk and placed the Mary Tyler Moore series in the higher profile Saturday lineup following another new sitcom -- the now forgotten Arnie which lasted two seasons -- and before the popular private eye drama Mannix.
|Iconic image from MTMS opening, filmed on a very|
cold day in Minneapolis, early 1970.
As a cultural touchstone MTMS was overshadowed in its time by All in the Family and other Norman Lear produced shows that took a lapel-grabbing approach to topical humor. "The Lear shows definitely, by their very nature, generated louder buzz," Armstrong explained to TCR. "Brooks and Burns preferred quieter, character-driven stories, while Lear's shows were literally, as well as figuratively, loud. They featured overbearing characters yelling at each other about major hot-button issues of the day. I personally love the Lear shows...but I also find that I can only take so much of them. I get a little tired of the yelling, and the 'issues' approach dates them a bit. The Mary Tyler Moore Show holds up against the best sitcoms of today, and the only thing dated is the wardrobe which, when it comes to Mary and Rhoda, is awesome."
|Mary Richards with Rhoda (Valerie Harper) and Phyllis|
(Cloris Leachman), c. 1971.
|Scene from first MTMS episode, broadcast|
September 19, 1970.
|Scene from MTMS finale, broadcast|
March 19, 1977.
Armstrong is currently working on a book about Seinfeld, the mega-hit sitcom of 1990s. Armstrong notes that Seinfeld, struggling in the ratings in its early days, kept a place on the NBC schedule by knocking out a show called FM that was created by Allan Burns and produced by the MTM company.
Armstrong is also the author of Why? Because We Still Like You: an oral history of The Mickey Mouse Club.
"Every book feels like a massive challenge," Armstrong says, adding that research poses the greatest difficulty. "It's hard to know when to stop, and when you do, it's hard to know what to do with all of it. I actually do love once I get to sit down and write. But the whole process feels like a mystery to me every single time, and then it always works itself out magically. Thank goodness."
Here's More Information --
Robert S. Alley and Irby Brown. Love is All Around: The Making of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, 1989.
Jennifer Keishin Armstrong. "Two Men and an Independent Woman." Television Academy website. 23 April 3014.
"Comedy Writer Treva Silverman." (Interview). Television Academy website. 10 December 2013.
Valerie Harper. I, Rhoda; A Memoir. 2013.
Mary Tyler Moore. Growing Up Again: Life, Loves, and, Oh Yeah, Diabetes (memoir), 2010; and After All (autobiography),1995.
"Style Inspiration: The Mary Tyler Moore Show." The Clothing Menu. 31 August 2010.
The Committee Room. Time Spent with TCR is Never Wasted.