I feel like we’ve eased up a bit on our abundance of “RIP posts”, possibly because of the overwhelming volume of boomer-era celebrities dying in the last year or so. But I still have a lot of admiration and adoration for the woman known simply as MTM, even despite the fact that I am a male and missed the ‘70s by a pretty large margin. Because unlike probably around 99.9% of my generation, I’ve seen every episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show (and a pretty decent chunk of The Dick Van Dyke Show for that matter), and I can attest that despite its very ‘70s aesthetic, is still one of the best comedy series ever made.
Of course, a big part of this enduring greatness would lie on Moore’s firm but dainty shoulders. Not only did she have that unique ability to be funny in a way that was feminine but without begging for pity, but she was also the perfect center for this goofy workplace ensemble that would serve as the archetype for many to come. A lot of this had to do with Moore’s efforts outside the soundstage, as along with her then-husband Grant Tinker – who was known to be one of the biggest mensches in TV history – she set up the production company that bore her namesake, MTM Enterprises. Which not only had an adorable cat logo, but also championed the writer and creativity in the grand scheme of television, and gave birth to some of the most acclaimed shows of its era, like The Bob Newhart Show, Hill Street Blues, St. Elsewhere, and of course The Mary Tyler Moore Show and all of its many spin-offs.
But of course, this all seems a bit like a history lesson, right? ‘70s television isn’t held in quite as high esteem as, say the rock music or New Hollywood films from that era. Though that more just speaks to television being based on technological innovation and building on what others had done before. But make no mistake, Moore’s character, Mary Richards was one of the most important TV characters ever. Again, I can’t speak to this with much authority, what with being a relatively young dude and whatnot, but she pretty much set the precedent for every headstrong comedic leading lady to come after her, be it Liz Lemon, Leslie Knope, Hannah Horvath, etc. In fact, I wasn’t sure whether it’d be safe to declare Mary Tyler Moore as the most important woman in the history of television, but then I thought of the one woman who would give her a run for her money, the mighty Oprah, and it turns out she looked up to Mary Richards as a huge role model.
So again, not really my place to make such grand statements, due to the whole me being a dude thing. And I know, Moore’s real life relationship with Gloria Steinem-era feminism seemed a little complicated. I remember in the book Mary & Lou & Rhoda & Ted, it sounded like Valerie Harper was the real feminist on the MTM show set, while Treva Silverman led that charge in the writer’s room. But still, she brought the idea of the “strong, independent woman” to the mainstream in a way that was warm and made people laugh, and after seeing the waves of non-violent female-led protests that emerged over this past weekend, it’s hard not to think that Mary Richards would’ve been there along side them.
Also, if you haven’t watched it already, Mary Tyler Moore is responsible for perhaps the best piece of comedy acting in the face death we’ll ever see. Enjoy: