This was one of the really good books I read in 2016. As I mentioned in my best of 2016 books blog post, what got me to read this book was a nostalgic memory from the first year I was married when my wife and I would watch a rerun of the show every afternoon after work. So I read this book with a number of visual fond memories from the TV series.
The TV show originally aired on Saturday night from 1970 to 1977. These happened to be the years I was in high school and college, a time when I would not have been caught dead at home on a Saturday night watching TV, which explained why I never saw the shows when they were originally broadcast.
One of the challenges for Mary in the show was actually overcoming the image of her not being Dick Van Dyke’s wife, Laura Petrie, but rather being the independent, self-sufficient single woman she portrayed in her new show. This she actually did extraordinarily well. But what I didn’t know from just having seen the reruns 10 years after they aired was what a huge impact the show had on television at the time. In its relatively short seven year run, it garnered numerous awards and was second only to All in the Family in terms of weekly viewership. Moreover, it was the first to feature a woman cast as the main character and employed many women writers at a time when men wrote the majority of shows.
With this historical knowledge of the series as background, I added all seven seasons (168 episodes) to my Netflix queue and began to watch the shows. I enjoyed hearing the theme song each episode and watching Mary drive her Ford Mustang to her new job in Minneapolis-St. Paul. And then at the conclusion of each introduction, watch Mary race out into the street and throw her cap into the air, an image one of the show creators wanted to convey analogous to when graduates have achieved their goal of graduation by tossing their mortar boards up in the air upon the conclusion of graduation.
Watching the first three seasons, I cannot recall a single episode that I didn’t break out into a really good belly laugh. The shows were just so funny. And for some, I could almost picture myself sitting on the balcony of our high-rise apartment while watching and laughing at these same episodes.
At the end of each of these first three seasons, there was an additional bonus of interviews with the surviving cast members. It was amazing how much older they all looked, except it seemed for Rhoda who still looked quite young. Sadly before I received the fourth season discs, Mary died at the age of 80. All of a sudden, the shows were in high demand and the first disc to season 4 showed “extremely long wait” on my queue. For some reason, Netflix shipped me disc #2 in February but it was not until June that I received disc #1. So there was an almost four month gap in my watching.
When I finally got the first disc to season four, it was interesting to see that the introduction had changed. No longer was Mary driving into her new life, she was boldly walking around the city as if she had arrived. I particularly liked seeing her confidently strut across the street in this outlandish outfit.
It was also intriguing to see all of the men Mary was paired up with over the many seasons. Probably the most unusual was Dick Van Dyke’s brother Jerry. If the producers wanted to distance her from her Dick Van Dyke days as indicated in the book, it seemed odd to have Jerry as a romantic encounter.
Throughout the seasons, Ted was ever the less than perfect anchorman. Several times references were made to once Ted’s true greatness had finally been recognized; he would no doubt become co-anchor with Walter Cronkite. So the episode when Walter actually came to meet Lou (they were old war buddies) was most enjoyable. Everyone was speechless and Walter got exceptionally long ovations before he could even say his few lines.
I found the fifth season shows particularly funny. I think the writers and producers were really getting into their stride. However, Rhoda was absent from the season even though she was pictured in the opening scenes shown while credits were displayed. In one episode everyone was buying her wedding presents and another they were flying off to New York for the wedding. I knew from the book that Rhoda was spun off to her own show but I was surprised they didn’t at least have a show that introduced us to her fiancé. Unless I fell asleep watching one of the episodes, I was really surprised. When Lou briefly rented Rhoda’s apartment after his separation, I knew Rhoda was gone for good.
The sixth season started off with another surprise, Phyllis had moved to San Francisco (she too was spun off into her own show). Now with both Rhoda and Phyllis gone, there was no reason for Mary to continue to live in her original apartment so one of the episodes showed Mary moving into a high-rise building where she would actually have a separate bedroom (rather than a sleeping couch in her studio apartment).
Part way through the fifth season, my wife began watching the shows with me and neither of us ever remembered any other apartment than the first one so we must never have seen either season 6 or 7. There was also a very emotional episode when Lou Grant’s ex-wife remarried and I figured we would not see her any more (I was right).
As the sixth season progressed, it seemed that the shows kept getting better and better. I found myself laughing more as the characters were getting more and more developed. And the subject matters portrayed became even more progressive. Like the time Ted and Georgette both dressed up in matching tuxedos for the annual Teddy award and Georgette sourly commented that together they looked like the little figures on top of a gay wedding cake (an issue we can’t seem to get over even 40 years later). Season 6 ended with Georgette pregnant right after adopting the cutest little young John Denver look-alike.
When I began to watch season seven, I started to feel sad knowing that the series was almost over. There were a number of really funny episodes though that kept me laughing and sometimes I would be laughing so hard, I would miss subsequent punch lines. This happened often whenever Murray would zing Sue Ann with a line and I would miss her snide response while she merrily rubbed Murray’s baldhead.
Over the seven seasons, Mary made great strides in achieving her goal of being successful as a single woman. As the book points out and as witnessed in watching all 168 episodes, this was a landmark show broaching many subjects on television for the first time. But at the same time, it is sad that she never could end up in a lasting relationship with a man worthy of her.
As I watched the last few episodes, I began to wonder how the show was going to end. One was a flashback to many of the bad parties that Mary had thrown and it was nice to see the old apartment and complete cast of younger characters that had started out on the show. When the final plot was revealed in the last episode, a surprise visit from two characters that had left offered a brief sense of joy.
But the final scene was absolutely a tear-jerker and when Mary pauses at the door she walked through for so many years and glances around the news room for the last time, it was with extreme sadness that I realized that as she turned out the lights, I was not only saying goodbye to Mary Richards, but to Mary Tyler Moore as well since her passing in January of this year.