Mary Tyler Moore couldn’t be prouder to have two iconic characters who never are away from television very long.
They’re now back-to-back each weeknight on the nostalgic channel Me-TV, where her Mary Richards on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” is followed by her Laura Petrie on “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” Each of the classic sitcoms also has another outlet: “Dick Van Dyke” marked its 50th anniversary by rejoining TV Land last fall; and “Mary Tyler Moore” becomes part of the Hallmark Channel lineup with a marathon of first-season episodes Sunday (April 1).
Seven-time Emmy winner Moore tells Zap2it she believes her 1970-77 CBS show’s enduring popularity owes to something “The Dick Van Dyke Show” also maintained, “the tradition of good writing and character relationships. We took it another step forward with our show, and that was something to be very proud of.
“For what you see and feel and laugh at now, it was remarkable then. Ted Knight (alias pompous WJM-TV news anchor Ted Baxter) and Betty White (“Happy Homemaker” Sue Ann Nivens) and Cloris Leachman (Phyllis Lindstrom) all played what you’d hardly call your favorite neighbor from down the block, but everyone could exonerate or redeem himself or herself.”
Edward Asner‘s Lou Grant and Valerie Harper‘s Rhoda Morgenstern — who, like Leachman, got their own spinoffs — also were vital parts of the “Mary Tyler Moore Show” ensemble, as was Gavin MacLeod‘s Murray Slaughter. Moore also takes pride in what many deem a textbook example of a workplace sitcom … “and if they can articulate it, I wish they’d tell me.”
The recipient of a Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award in January (“I was so surprised by that, but I don’t know why … I’ve always been a good girl”), Moore remains pleased that Mary Richards still is referenced as a role model of a single, professional woman.
“When it was in the process of being written, I could swear that Jim Brooks and Allan Burns and Lorenzo Music and the various other people who worked on the show had no intention of doing that. They were just making her a fairly head-on-her-shoulders person who wasn’t doing anything remarkable, but was remarkable in her goodness.
“She was somebody who was true to her own code and respected it. A lot of people have that, but they don’t want to acknowledge it, because that implies self-involvement. Mary did not want to think of herself as a do-gooder or somebody who was a model for anybody else. She just was who she was, and most people liked her.”
While Saturday nights have become pretty much a wasteland for TV series, “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” was part of a golden lineup that also included such other all-time classics as “All in the Family,” “M*A*S*H,” “The Bob Newhart Show” (also made by Moore’s MTM Productions) and “The Carol Burnett Show.” Moore maintains, “Nobody knew it at the time. We never made No. 1 in the ratings, and very few people talked about us in terms other than ‘a delightful escape.'”
The 1975-76 season’s “Chuckles Bites the Dust,” in which the death of a beloved clown prompts Mary Richards’ desperate hysteria at the funeral, stands as one of the most praised comedy episodes ever. “I think about how scared I was,” Moore recalls of filming that story, which earned writer David Lloyd an Emmy. “We were all scared, because we didn’t know what the reaction would be.
“In fact, our regular director — Jay Sandrich — refused to direct it, although he claims he had a legitimate reason to pull out. He said, ‘I think we’re all in grave jeopardy in producing a show about someone dying and someone else laughing.’ In a way, he was right, but it was so good to be in a refreshing place. What’s wrong with one of those laughs that allows you to get through life?”
Oscar-nominated for Robert Redford’s 1980 directorial debut, “Ordinary People,” Moore reunited with Harper for the aptly titled 2000 TV movie “Mary and Rhoda.” Hallmark Channel will show it Sunday after the 20-episode “Mary Tyler Moore Show” marathon, with a pre-“One Tree Hill” Bethany Joy Galeotti (then known as Joie Lenz) playing Mary’s daughter.
White and Asner worked together again on last week’s episode of TV Land’s “Hot in Cleveland,” right after Asner’s appearance on CBS’ reboot of “Hawaii Five-0,” and Georgia Engel (who played Ted Baxter’s wife Georgette) turned up last week on CBS’ “Two and a Half Men.” Moore says it’s great for her to see her old TV gang still so active: “You bet it is … you bet it is. And it’s not without a little bit of jealousy.”