The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977)
Type: Spin Off
She could turn the world on with her smile. She could take a nuthin' day and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile... At least that was the propaganda being spread by the famous theme song of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. What they never told you in that theme was that Mary couldn't throw a good party - her parties always went right in the dumper. Ah well... accentuate the positive I suppose.
The Mary Tyler Moore Show told the story of Mary Richards, a young woman newly moved to Minneapolis after having broken off her engagement to her fiance (TV wasn't ready for a young divorced woman quite yet). She got an apartment in a house where her friend Phyllis lived and got a job at local television station WJM.
Mary's upstairs neighbor was a smart and wise cracking New York native named Rhoda, played by Valerie Harper. Rhoda and Mary became fast friends - eventually. At the start Rhoda disliked Mary. You see the building they lived in was not an apartment building but rather a set of apartments in what looked like a regular house. Phyllis lived on the first floor, Mary on the second and Rhoda in the cramped loft apartment. Only Rhoda had planned on moving into the second floor apartment... until Mary beat her to it.
But like I said, they ended up fast friends. They were such good friends that their names have been used as a slang short hand to describe certain friendships. In the movie Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion, the two title characters get into an argument over who in their friendship is "The Mary" and who is "The Rhoda". This comes from the idea that Mary was the pretty popular one and that Rhoda was the one concerned with her weight and always trying to get a man.
And as it turned out Rhoda was the one who did get a man. While visiting New York, Rhoda met Joe Gerard and soon decided to marry him. With that in mind Rhoda moved to New York and into her own spin off series Rhoda. The open to The Mary Tyler Moore Show ended with Mary throwing her hat in the air in a moment of happiness, the picture freezing on that image with the hat still in the air. Rhoda's intro ended with Rhoda trying the same thing and not quite getting the same results. This summed Rhoda up pretty well. She was one of the regular folk and with not quite the same good luck as Mary Richards.
Two regulars on the new series who had also previously appeared on The Mary Tyler Moore Show were Rhoda's parents. Rhoda's dad was a sweet old guy played by Harold J. Gould (who also played Mr. Cunningham in the pilot episode of Happy Days!). Rhoda's Mom was the classic Jewish mother and was played by Bounty pitchwoman Nancy Walker (who also played Mr. Cunningham's cousin Nancy Blansky on the Happy Day's semi-spin off Blansky's Beauties!).
Other characters on the show were the always heard but never seen Carlton the Doorman and Rhoda's sister Brenda. With Rhoda on her own show, Brenda strangely enough became "The Rhoda" and Rhoda became "The Mary". And while Brenda, as played by Julie Kavner, was a great character, this change may have hurt the show's longevity. People like Rhoda's character like she was on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Making her the pretty, happy, married one took away a lot of the elements people expected her to play off of. Rhoda's wedding, attended of course by Mary Richards, might have been one of the most watched events in TV history but it and the changes it meant for Rhoda's character also made the show less watched overall.
With ratings dipping, what to do? Get Rhoda back to how she was of course! Get her divorced! Make her not utterly happy. Uh, problem. You already have a character very nicely filling that slot on the show named Brenda. On top of that, people might not like the happy and contented Rhoda but they also don't necessarily want to see her happiness shattered and her marriage ruined!
The show continued as more changes were made. Rhoda's career had always been working as a window dresser for various stores. Suddenly, she found herself working at a costume shop! This let them bring in a new character in the form of her new boss Jack Doyle. I think they hoped Doyle would serve as an irascible and cranky, yet lovable boss similar to Mary Tyler Moore's Lou Grant. It didn't work. Drastic changes in a show - such as characters making radical and unexplainable career changes (especially to goofy jobs) - tend to put the smell of desperation and death on a show rather than help strengthen it.
A year before the end of her own show, Rhoda made one more appearance over on The Mary Tyler Moore Show in its final episode. The Mary Tyler Moore Show was still going strong in the ratings but after seven years the cast decided to call it quits and go out while they were still on top. The last episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show found everyone at WJM being fired with the exception of News Anchor Ted Baxter, ironically the least competent person on the staff. It wouldn't have been a true goodbye episode though without all of the original cast on hand though. So, with Mary facing unemployment, Rhoda and Phyllis (who had also left for a spin off show of her own) returned to offer Mary their support in her time of need.
A year later Rhoda would also leave the air after only a four year run - a victim perhaps of too much tampering with a good thing.
Some twenty years later though, Mary and Rhoda hit the air again. During the 1998-1999 TV season, rumors were flying about a new show featuring Rhoda and Mary. The show would have had them both divorced and living with each other in New York and would also have featured their now grown daughters - Mary's daughter Rhoda and Rhoda's daughter Mary. But apparently due to problems on getting people to agree on different elements of the show, it never actually saw the light of day. The show was changed into a TV movie that aired to good ratings and poor reviews. The film was played as a drama with no laugh track. See the problem? If you love a sitcom, you usually love it as a sitcom. If its suddenly a drama... well it gets weird.Other Mary Tyler Moore Show Crossover Links
The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Lou Grant
The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Phyllis
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