To: Professor Medina Abenoza
From: Rebecca G. Agee
Date: 8 May 2011
Script Analysis/ Audience Response 5564
On Saturday evening, September 19, 1970 The Mary Tyler Moore Show made its debut on the CBS television network. At the time of its airing, the world was abuzz and restless with social, economic and cultural change. The Women’s (or Second Wave Feminist) Movement was calling for (and just beginning to receive) equal rights, equal opportunities and equal pay in the work place. On the heels of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique (1963) and her subsequent founding of the National Organization of Women (NOW) in 1966, women were starting to challenge cultural traditions and entering new literal and metaphorical spaces.
For the first time, women were gaining access to the ivy-league colleges from which they were once barred. For the first time since the Second World War Two days of “Rosie the Riveter,” more women were starting to work outside the home; and with the advent of birth control (and the corresponding “Free Love” lifestyle movements and Sexual Revolution) women were beginning to express themselves creatively and productively–as well as sexually.
There were stirrings of other watershed changes that were yet to be. Eighteen-year-old adults in the United States would not be permitted to vote for another year (1971), it would be another two years until the landmark decision, Roe v. Wade, would be handed down in the U.S. Supreme court. The Vietnam War was at its height—as a result there were many protests—both peaceful and violent. It was a year after the famous Woodstock festival of love and music, the year after the initial lunar landing—and the year in which four students at Kent State University were slain by national guardsman during campus protests. In America, 1970 also marked the beginnings of a decade-long period of unprecedented inflation, with an average rate of about 6% and a decade high of 13% and worldwide, an energy crisis ensued in which gas-lines and gas rationing at filling stations were not uncommon (http://inflationdata.com/inflation/).
There were also sweeping changes on the television horizon. Many of the formulaic family sitcoms or broad, gag-oriented comedy programs were falling by the wayside. The Columbia Broadcasting Station (CBS), at the time jokingly referred to as the “Country Broadcasting Station” due to the inordinate amount of programs featuring rural themes and characters it featured (The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, Hee-Haw, Mayberry RFD and Petticoat Junction)–performed what latter became known as its “rural purge” and cancelled all of the aforementioned programs.
At the time, only over-the-air television existed, and in the United States the “Big Three” networks (CBS, ABC and NBC) held sway. Prior to the premier of The Mary Tyler Moor Show, CBS held four of the top five program spots (of which Mayberry RFD was one); quixotically, however, CBS executives as well as its advertisers were looking for programs that would appeal to a more sophisticated, urban audience.
The Mary Tyler Moore Show was a sitcom with an upbeat tempo, witty dialogue and fairly realistic situations. As a program about a single working woman at a time when such fare was not only atypical—but considered culturally risky–it utilized and depended on the cheery popularity of its star, Mary Tyler Moore. Moore, along with a talented ensemble group of actors, writers, directors and producers with high production values successfully invited and involved its audience for seven years. As an entertainment product—The Mary Tyler Moore Show featured the sounds, music, lighting and dialogue that are typical of a television program circa 1970-77.
The purpose of this critical probe is to analyze The Mary Tyler Moore Show for its visual style and its representation of the daily domestic and working life of unmarried, independent American women during a period of social and cultural changes (the early 1970’s).
Description of the Mary Tyler Moore show
The Mary Tyler Moore Show ran for seven seasons, from September 1970 to March 1977. There were a total of 168 episodes—with each episode running approximately 25-6 minutes. It eventually became part of what has become known as possibly the best lineup of sitcoms in the history of television—Saturday evenings (1972-75) on CBS: All in the Family, M*A*S*H*, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show and The Carol Burnett Show. The Mary Tyler Moore Show has received a multitude of accolades and critical acclaim— while both on and off the air. It received the Emmy award for “Outstanding Comedy Series” three years in a row (1975, 76, 77). Other Emmy wins include: Mary Tyler Moore for “Actress of the Year (1974)” and “Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series” (1973, 74, 76); Ed Asner (1971, 72, 75) and Ted Knight (1973,76) for “Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series”; Valerie Harper (1971,72 ,73), Cloris Leachman (1974) and Betty White (1975, 76) for “Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series.”
There were also five Emmy wins for “Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series”: Brooks and Burns (1971), Silverman (1974), Weinberger and Daniels (1975), Lloyd (1976), Burns, Brooks, Weinberger, Daniels, Lloyd and Ellison (1977)—while Sandrich won “Outstanding Directing in a Comedy Series” for 1971 and 1973. All told, the Mary Tyler Moore show won 29 Emmys. Mary Tyler Moore and Ed Asner both won Golden Globes for their performances (Moore in 1971, Asner in 1972, 76).
The program spawned three successful spin-offs: Rhoda (1974-78), Phyllis (1975-77) and Lou Grant (1977-82)–which notably featured a main character that successfully ‘jumped’ genres—from a sitcom to that of an hour long drama. In 2000, Moore and Valerie Harper starred in the TV movie, Mary & Rhoda, which was an ‘update’ of the same characters they portrayed in The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
Description of the Episode
The first episode (there was never an actual “pilot” episode) of the Mary Tyler Moore show, titled “Love is All Around,” aired on September 19, 1970. In it, Mary Richards, a thirtyish, single career-woman is relocating to Minneapolis, MN following a difficult break-up with her long-time fiancée. Mary’s friend Phyllis Lindstrom has an apartment available in her building; however, another tenant, Rhoda Morgenstern, also wants it. After a bit of friendly friction, Mary ends up with the apartment—and it appears that Mary and Rhoda may become good friends. Mary interviews for a job with a local TV news station. The producer, Lou Grant, hires her as an associate producer. She meets anchorman Ted Baxter and writer Murray Slaughter. Later, as Mary begins to settle in to her new apartment, Mary’s new boss, Lou Grant shows up at her door, drunk. Mary believes he has ulterior motives (sexual)—but as Lou begins to talk, she realizes that he is a good guy—and is missing his wife (who is out of town). Later, Mary’s ex-fiancée appears, wanting to resume their relationship and get married; however, Mary questions his feelings/commitment. She decides that she should end the relationship for good and stay in Minneapolis and continue her new life.
The source of the following information concerning the production of the Mary Tyler Moore show is from the 87 minute film The Making of the Mary Tyler Moore Show, produced by Danny Gold and Matthew Asner (son of Ed Asner). This documentary is included with the 4-disc DVD set of The Mary Tyler Moore Show: The Complete First Season, 1970-71 (2002) and features interviews with most of the surviving cast members, producers, directors and writers (actor Ted Knight and producer/writer Lorenzo Music have both passed away). The film features Moore, Grant Tinker, Ed Asner, Gavin MacLeod, as well as director/producer Garry Marshall and actor Dick Van Dyke.
The Mary Tyler Moore Show was produced in a sitcom format and filmed using the three-camera method at the CBS Studio Center, Los Angeles, California, before a live audience. The opening and ending credit sequences were filmed in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
The show began as a vehicle for the actress Mary Tyler Moore who had gained success and popularity via her earlier role as Laura Petrie, wife of Rob Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show. In 1969, Moore, along with then-husband Grant Tinker, formed MTM, an independent production company—and then hired James L. Brooks and Allan Burns– two relatively unknown talents to executive produce and create the nucleus of what would eventually become The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
Although CBS had agreed to ‘pick up’ the show that MTM was creating without an actual pilot (due to the popularity of Moore and its faith in her talents)— early on, most of the executives at the network disliked the premise, the scripts and several of the characters of the show. They failed to appreciate the quiet wit and intelligent writing of Brooks and Burns—and felt that it was ‘beneath’ the comedic talents of a Mary Tyler Moore. It was only after the show acquired an audience and ratings success did CBS finally approve. As it progressed, The Mary Tyler Moore Show attracted a myriad of supremely gifted writers, directors and producers—including: Treva Silverman; Lloyd Turner; Gordon Mitchell; Gail Parent; Susan Silver; Dick Clair; Jenna McMahon; Martin Cohan; Marilyn Suzanne Miller (writers); Jay Sandrich; Peter Baldwin; Alan Rafkin (directors); Lorenzo Music; David Davis; Ed Weinberg and Stan Daniels (producers).
The cast of The Mary Tyler Moore Show included:
Mary Tyler Moore (Mary Richards, 1970-77); Ed Asner (Lou Grant, 1970-77);
Ted Knight (Ted Baxter, 1970-77); Gavin MacLeod (Murray Slaughter, 1970-77);
Valerie Harper (Rhoda Morgenstern, 1970-74); Cloris Leachman (Phyllis Lindstrom, 1970-75);
Lisa Gerritsen (Bess Lindstrom, 1970-74); Angus Duncan (Bill, 1970);
“Gordy” Howard (John Amos, 1970-73); Georgette Franklin Baxter (Georgia Engel, 1973-77);
Sue Ann Nivens (Betty White, 1973-77); Marie Slaughter (Joyce Bulifant, 1971-77);
Edie Grant (Priscilla Morrill, 1973-74) and David Baxter (Robbie Rist, 1976-77).
Questions for Analysis
The questions I have chosen for this analysis reflect my primary concerns with discovering and interpreting the rhetorical and social/cultural elements of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
A. What societal and cultural values are represented in the television images and discourse?
B. Does the program reinforce or challenge mainstream societal and cultural values/
C. What ordinary personal issues and attributes are recognizable?
D. Can viewers recognize their own fallibility in the characters in the program?
E. Is it possible to specify an attributed intent or message to the program?
A. Are the objects, furniture, and other articles consistent with the time period of the
B. How do the objects, furniture, and other articles reflect the characters on the set?
C. Do the characters have depth or just a few characteristics that reinforce a character’s
personality? Are any of the characters social types (easily recognizable people such as
hippies, hillbillies, yuppies, Southern belles, gangsters, cowboys, maids, and so on?)
D. Is there symbolism in the outdoor scenes?
3. Audience Involvement
A. How do you think the program may influence certain types of viewers? Does the program
have the capability to influence attitudes, beliefs, values, and behaviors? Could it influence
fashion, hairstyles, or body image?
B. Does the program have the potential to be absorbed into the lives of the viewers? Might
they take on new meanings, new identities, and/or new knowledge?
C. Who is represented and who is not? Is anyone represented as the “other?” Is anyone
classified with a loss of individual differences? Are there stereotypes?
Analysis and Interpretation
In the opening sequence, the words “Mary” “Tyler” “Moore” pop up one at a time—finally forming the name “Mary Tyler Moore.” This is a familiar name—carrying recognition and the weight of Moore’s past successful TV performances. The name/graphic starts replicating and rolling vertically in different, brightly colored-hues—which serve to fill the audience with feelings of enthusiasm—something bright and fresh, (in the person of Mary Tyler Moore) is coming its way. The font of the words is Peignot—a Bauhaus influenced type that, like MTM herself, is strong, yet decorative.
The visuals of the opening sequence also suggest new beginnings: A farewell party for Mary is shown—and then she is seen driving away. As she enters Minneapolis the sun is coming up (the dawn of a new day—a new life). Mary looks somewhat anxiously, nervously out of the car’s window. Then we see her walking around town—she looks around and up at the big buildings, the people, etc. and starts to look more relaxed, more confident.
The notion of optimism is revealed as aforementioned, the sun is coming up as she arrives in Minneapolis/St. Paul (we know this is the destination because we see the twin cities’ sign). Towards the conclusion of the opening sequence, as Mary walks downtown, she becomes increasingly buoyant—casually, almost jauntily, swinging her purse—which concludes in a happy twirl finalized by the toss of her hat in the air.
Mary Richards, the protagonist, is a modern, “new” woman. She arrives in Minneapolis in a white Mustang—which is symbolic of Mary herself: Mary is (at least in the beginning) figuratively “white”—pure, virginal; however, like a “Mustang” (both car and horse) she is also full of energy and rebelliousness. Her life is a comment against the dominant patriarchal culture which calls for women over the age of thirty to be married homemakers/mothers.
The opening sequence features a montage of Mary in a variety of (mostly) snowy backdrops that exemplify (again) her pure, virginal status—but also something new: a “cleansing.” Mary in Minneapolis is being purified—purged of all the baggage and negative energy by snow showers of white. She is attired in fashionable clothing—for the era–which includes a fur coat, mini skirts and dresses with boots. Like many other women of the period, Mary wears her hair long and obviously enjoys the trappings of looking her best. This implies that although Mary carries feminist ideas and values of independence/freedom—she still enjoys femininity and looking attractive.
The Mary Tyler Moore Show features primarily women—all more or less modern, stylish and independent. The male characters in the first episode seem more flawed (Lou’s drinking, Ted’s big ego, Bill’s self-centeredness), and less critical to the program. Starting out as a resolute but tentative “new” (read independent) woman, the character of Mary Richards was the prototype for a new convention within the realm of television sitcoms. She demonstrated and exemplified what it was to be a typical single, working woman—not the broadly caricatured man-hating shrew, or the stereotypical man-hungry female—but a woman who works for a living—who enjoys dating, romance and the company of men—yet is not defined by their presence—or their absence. Mary Richards epitomized the transition of a period when women were still searching for the balance between patriarchal notions of femininity and the new freedoms established by the Second Wave Feminist movement.
The first episode ends with the theme (wordless) playing and shots of co-stars and names; the credits then continue to roll with the show concluding with a logo that reads “MTM productions” and an orange kitten meowing. This is suggestive as it is evocative of the famous MGM film studio’s logo that features a roaring lion. MTM productions work within a smaller venue (television) and is owned by Mary Tyler Moore (and husband Grant Tinker). The small kitten reveals a less powerful, smaller enterprise than that of MGM. Further, Mary is a woman—therefore, considered less powerful, less domineering (softer?) than those that own/operate MGM (Louis B. Mayer).
The lyrics of the show’s musical theme “Love is All Around” have several connotations. They are suggestive of a new beginning: “…It’s time you started living…time you let someone else do some giving…You can have a town, why don’t you take it?” The theme also suggests optimism: “Love is all around, no need to waste it…you might just make it after all.”
The theme music, like Mary herself, begins with subdued trepidation, as a quietly played guitar leads into a voice (that of singer/composer Sonny Curtis) singing the question, “How will you make it on your own? This world is awfully big—and girl this time you’re all alone…” and then–again like Mary–the music slowly builds up to a faster-paced, ebullient, strong crescendo where the line “Love is all around, no need to waste it…” is loudly, enthusiastically sung on top of happy-sounding trumpets. The music, like the words “You might just make it after all” concludes in a rich orchestration of fast-paced, uplifting tones that end in a quiet, sweet tinkle of chords that accompany and compliment the image of Mary tossing her hat in the air; all of which denotes the particular charms of Mary Tyler Moore (the performer) and Mary Richards–the “girl next door.”
Settings: Following the opening sequence, we open on the exterior of a big, white Victorian style house; then the scene changes to an interior apartment. This is Mary’s new apartment. The surroundings, like Mary, are a mixture of the old and the new (a mix of the Victorian and the modern/the antiquated and the emancipated). The apartment is white wood and brick, open and airy. The general hues/color scheme is light (carpeting, painted walls are beige). These neutral colors suggest a plain easel or tablet on which the possibility exists for Mary to ‘etch’ or paint a new colorful life.
There is an old-fashioned stove furnace and wall-to-wall ‘high’ piled carpeting. There are modern kitchen appliances and stained glass windows. Mary’s belongings arrive—and they, too, are a hybrid of the old and the new: Antique tables, wall hangings, a white wooden rocking chair– as well as a modern sofa (with a pull-out bed), modern art prints, a globe-shaped lamp—and most importantly—a big gold letter “M” on the wall (which denotes modernism, independence and ownership).
Further, Mary’s apartment is essentially one room. There is a ‘pull-down’ divider between the kitchen and the living-room. This figuratively represents the division between the domestic, conservative (“old-fashioned”) side of Mary (the kitchen) and her modern, independent (possibly sexual?) aspects (the living room). It is to be remembered that the living room also serves as her bedroom.
The WJM newsroom, Mary’s new workplace, is also filled with muted colors (shades of gray, mostly). Full of clocks representing the different time zones, desks, typewriters, TV monitors, etc. All is angular. It is an efficient, professional workspace; however, the small size of the working staff/crew denotes a local, smaller TV station. It is noteworthy of Lou Grant’s status as boss/executive producer that his office is off to itself.
Characters: Friend and landlord Phyllis’ Lindstrom’s pretentiousness is suggested by the blonde curls piled high on top of her head. Like an ex-beauty pageant queen or prom princess—her “high” hair symbolizes high standards. She is found of loud, floral prints, unique textures which serve to establish her dominating, controlling presence.
Mary’s neighbor/new friend Rhoda Morgenstern is the antithesis of Mary. Rhoda is chubby (especially when compared to the ultra-thinness of Mary). Rhoda is sharp, witty and cynical. She hails from NYC, is dark haired/eyed, with a ‘typical’ Bronx accent (all strongly suggestive of her Jewish heritage); while Mary embodies the idea of the honest, Midwestern “All American Girl”—or WASP. Early on, Rhoda displays big-city, street ‘smarts’ when she lies in the inital episode (she told Mary that she bought the carpet in Mary’s apartment, which she did not). Rhoda is ‘right-brained’—creative, casual, arty, earthy, passionate, while Mary is “left-brained”—efficient, organized, more logical than passionate. Mary wears designer, mostly tailored clothing, while Rhoda wears gold hoop earrings, bandanas, long knitted vests.
With his plain white office/work shirt and rolled-up sleeves—Mary’s new boss Lou Grant is a man ready to get to work. His large size, gruff exterior and voice reveal the commanding persona of a no-nonsense boss. As a journalist of the “old school” he offers Mary a straight-up shot (drink)—and the picture of Lou in his college football days demonstrates that he is a “man’s man.” During the job interview, Lou sits significantly (tellingly) higher than Mary.
Co-worker and TV personality Ted Baxter is the stereotypical ‘peacock’ news anchorman. He is vividly colored in appearance: his white hair and flashing smile contrast nicely with his tan. Revealing a rather shallow nature, Ted keeps his camera make-up on when he’s not working—and wears a bright blue blazer and brightly-colored (red and gold) striped tie.
Another co-worker, Murray Slaughter, is balding, chunky, and non-descript. He is seated at a typewriter when he meets Mary. His gold button down cardigan sweater and longish sideburns complete the picture of a writer.
Mary’s ex-fiancée Bill’s elegant business suit and overcoat suggest a professional. He is conventionally handsome—somewhat rather non-descript—not unlike a male model from a department store catalogue or a “Ken” doll. His appearance accurately reflects a rather self-centered, indecisive character.
The notions of a slender body and fashion are strongly emphasized in The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Mary Richards (Mary Tyler Moore) is very thin, as is Phyllis Lindstrom (Cloris Leachman). There is both a spoken and implied suggestion that the character of Rhoda Morgenstern (Valerie Harper) is overweight. Rhoda is only ‘chubby’ in comparison to the ultra-thin Mary and Phyllis. At the time of the program’s inception, the body type that was considered fashionable was that of Twiggy—the pencil-thin British model/icon—and The Mary Tyler Moore Show reflects that standard. All the women on the program dress fashionably (hairstyles done in the latest trends, with plenty of jewelry, scarves and other accessories). Mary Tyler Moore especially so, with bright clothing from the Evan-Picone line—with Valerie Harper’s ‘Rhoda’ wearing more earth tones and neutral shades.
There are a few stereotypes present on The Mary Tyler Moore Show—a few fairly harmless, such as the exaggerated caricature of the ‘model’ good-looking, shallow anchorman (Ted Baxter), as well that of Lou Grant as the quintessential hard-drinking, macho newsman/boss; however, the image of Rhoda Morgenstern is much darker. As aforementioned, she is the only Jewish character—and as such is often presented as the “other.”
Our first knowledge of Rhoda occurs when Bess queries Phyllis regarding Rhoda’s taking of the apartment. Mary asks “Who’s Rhoda?” To which Phyllis replies, “That dumb awful girl that lives upstairs.” What Phyllis fails to mention (but we discover later) is that Rhoda’s apartment is actually the building’s tiny attic—which is suggestive not only of Jewish Holocaust victim Anne Frank’s Dutch hideout—but of a servants’ quarters—both of which are indicative of Rhoda’s social status (especially when in comparison to Mary and Phyllis). When we finally meet Rhoda, she is literally (and metaphorically) outside the warm circle of gentile female company (Mary, Phyllis and daughter Bess) in what would eventually become Mary’s apartment. It is to be noted that she is laboring—cleaning the windows outside on the balcony in the cold. Further, as aforesaid, Rhoda is considered chubby—and therefore not as attractive as the svelte Mary (or Phyllis).
The Mary Tyler Moore Show calls to the “new woman” of the late 1960’s-early 70’s. The character of Mary Richards is presented as a productive, independent, single woman. After a few obstacles, she successfully endures major life changes (a broken engagement, a move to a new city, a new job, new friends) with humor and aplomb.
The Mary Tyler Moore Show—in the character of Mary Richards, more than anything shows that being a single woman over the age of thirty is not only doable—it’s okay.
The Mary Tyler Moore Show was groundbreaking television. Prior to the program, characters on sitcoms were fairly one-dimensional and as such, were not expected to grow and develop. Once proven successful, the types of and audience expectancies from relationships between characters on sitcoms rarely varied. On The Mary Tyler Moore Show, however, the storylines were character-driven and therefore, characters were allowed to evolve and relationships could (and often did) transform over time. It was also one of the first sitcoms that had an “ending”—a sense of closure (the entire staff of the WJM news show was fired—with the notable exception of Ted) that occurred in an emotion-laden final, memorable episode.
The Mary Tyler Moore Show both carried on and transformed the notion of the “workplace family” in which characters are both defined by and interact within the confines of traditional family roles (father, mother, sister, brother, child). The “workplace family” has as its foundation previous sitcoms such as The Gale Storm Show (1956-60) and Our Miss Brooks (1952-57). In The Mary Tyler Moore Show—Mary is the daughter figure to fatherly Lou Grant—and sister to Murray (and Rhoda); Ted is the bumbling, ne’er do-well son or brother, while Sue Anne Nivens is the perky yet cunningly competitive older sister or cousin.
The program initiated a new type or sub-genre of sitcom—that of the “working woman.” The next generations of “working women” sitcoms [e.g. Kate & Allie (1984-89), Designing Women (1986-93) and Murphy Brown (1988-98)] owe their existence and success to The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
In 1977, MTM productions, received the prestigious Peabody Award for how “…it has established the benchmark by which all situation comedies must be judged. MTM Enterprises merits a Peabody Award for a consistent standard of excellence-and for a sympathetic portrayal of a career woman in today’s changing society as exemplified by the Mary Tyler Moore Show” (http://www.peabody.uga.edu/winners/details.php?id=622).
An enduring favorite of critics and audiences alike, the show went on to syndication and television history as one of the best classic sitcoms–ever. Entertainment Weekly ranked the Mary Tyler Moore show number one on its list of the 100 Greatest TV Shows of all Time (1998)—a judgment with which this author wholeheartedly agrees.
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