The Mary Tyler Moore Show

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"Sometimes I get concerned about being a career woman. I get to thinking my job is too important to me, and I tell myself that the people I work with are just the people I work with and not my family. And last night, I thought, what is a family, anyway? They're just people who make you feel less alone, and really loved. And that's what you've done for me. Thank you for being my family."
Mary Richards, "The Last Show"

Legendary 1970s CBS comedy created by James L. Brooks and Allan Burns which forever reshaped sitcoms. Every workplace sitcom since bears its influence.

The show was famous for the quality and depth of its writing, particularly the attention and care given to supporting characters such as Lou Grant, Rhoda Morgenstern, Murray Slaughter, Ted Baxter, and Phyllis Lindstrom. Even Sue Ann Nivens, the Happy Homemaker, who could have been played as merely two dimensional, was given some measure of depth.

The show was also one of the first to feature a single woman, and focus on her career rather than love life. As originally scripted, Mary was to have been recently divorced. This was considered too controversial in 1970 (plus, in a case of classic Executive Meddling, network brass was afraid viewers would think that Moore's Dick Van Dyke Show character, Laura Petrie, had gotten divorced from Rob), so her Backstory was changed to one of rebuilding her life after a broken engagement.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show was the first series produced by MTM Enterprises (founded by Moore and then-husband Grant Tinker), which would be responsible for several of the most popular and acclaimed shows of the '70s and '80s. The show won 29 Emmy Awards (a record that held until Frasier won its 30th in 2002) and a Peabody Award, and spun off three other series: Rhoda, Phyllis and Lou Grant (the latter being one of the few instances where a comedy series spawned a drama).

One of its episodes, "Chuckles Bites the Dust", is widely considered to be one of the funniest sitcom episodes ever.

One of the many tropes it established was the recurring gag about Mary's disastrous parties. Friends similarly has built continuity around its Thanksgiving episodes, and Buffy typically had ruinous birthdays.

According to a book by J. Michael Straczynski if a writer watches this and Fawlty Towers, they will have had the best possible grounding in how to write comedy.

Ultimately MTM is best remembered for the depth and humanity of its characterizations, while never sacrificing the funny. Oh, and the hat-throwing scene in the intro.


Tropes used in The Mary Tyler Moore Show include:

"I've seen lots of guys get loans to open bars, and the only security they had was that I was gonna drink there."

  • Assumed Win: The "Teddy Awards" episodes.
  • Back for the Finale: Rhoda and Phyllis.
  • Big Ego, Hidden Depths: Former Trope Namer (Ted Baxter Close Up).
  • Black Comedy Burst: "Chuckles Bites the Dust".
  • Bland-Name Product: Mary buys Bess a "Fast Wheels" racing car set (Hot Wheels).
  • The Bus Came Back: "Hail the Conquering Gordy".
  • Butt Monkey: Ted.
    • Also Mary on more than one occasion. [1]
  • The Cast Showoff: "Murray Can't Lose" gives Georgia Engel (Georgette) a chance to show off her singing and dancing skills with a big musical production number to the song "Steam Heat".
    • Subverted in the same episode with Mary, who suggests putting herself in the talent show but thinks better of it after trying out a hilariously inept attempt to sing "One For My Baby".
  • Catch Phrase: "Hi, Guys!" (Ted Knight even recorded a novelty record based on it), "Ohhhhh, Mr Grantttttt."
    • Phyllis has "Hi hi!"
  • Chain Letter: "Don't Break the Chain" has Lou passing one of these along to Mary.
  • Chekhov's Hobby: In "Mary Midwife", Lou mentions that he once delivered a baby when he was in the Army. Five minutes later, Georgette goes into labor and Lou is called upon to deliver the baby.
  • Christmas Episode: "Christmas and the Hard-Luck Kid II" (the title references an episode of the '60s sitcom That Girl, which James L. Brooks had scripted) has Mary roped into working at the station on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, while "Not a Christmas Story" has the WJM staff trapped by a blizzard while Sue Ann films a Christmas episode of her Happy Homemaker show...in November.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Rhoda's sister Debbie and Phyllis's brother Ben were both written out of existence on the characters' respective spinoffs.
  • Class Reunion: "Didn't You Used to Be...Wait...Don't Tell Me".
  • Clip Show: The third-to-last episode mostly features clips from Mary's earlier disastrous parties.
  • Closer to Earth: Georgette is always more down-to-earth and sensible than Ted, and Murray's wife Marie is usually the more practical one in their relationship.
  • Commuting on a Bus: In Seasons 3 through 5, with Cloris Leachman doing more movie work after winning an Oscar, Phyllis went from appearing in half the episodes to only three or four episodes a year.
  • Compressed Vice: In "Mary's Insomnia", Mary gets addicted to sleeping pills and gets over her addiction within a single episode.
  • Cousin Oliver: Literally: Ted and Georgette's adopted son David is played by Robbie Rist, who played Oliver on The Brady Bunch.
  • Covert Pervert: Mary sometimes hints at this.

Lou: Mary, do you know what it's like to wake up next to a stranger?
Mary: Sure.

Mary: [to Lou, after watching Ted on the news] That's the format you're so anxious to hang on to?

  • Freudian Slip: Mary: "I'd love to interview Robert Redford, if the opportunity ever arouse... arose."
  • The Fun in Funeral: "Chuckles Bites the Dust".
  • Grand Finale: The first sitcom to have one.
  • Group Hug: Famously employed in the finale.
  • Guy of the Week: Most of Mary's boyfriends last no more than one episode, even if she doesn't officially break up with them at the end of the episode.
  • He Who Must Not Be Seen: Phyllis's husband, Lars.
  • Hypocritical Humor: During the "Chuckles" episode, Mary is horrified at her co-workers' jokes revolving around the titular deceased clown. Fast-forward to the funeral, where they remain appropriately solemn while she completely cracks up at the eulogy.
  • Inadvertent Entrance Cue: Happens numerous times, mostly with Ted.

Mary: [discussing disaster coverage on the news] How many big disasters are there in Minneapolis?
Ted: [entering] Hi, guys!
Murray: Nice timing, Ted.

  • Informed Attractiveness: Mary is consistently portrayed in-universe as, in Murray's words, "so terrifically attractive and desirable that she can probably have any man she wants."
  • Intimidating Revenue Service: In "1040 or Fight", Mary gets audited, and to make matters worse the IRS agent develops a crush on her.
    • In a later episode, Ted splurges on buying gifts for his friends with an undeserved tax refund check which the IRS later wants back.
  • Just Eat Gilligan: It's repeatedly shown that the station would do better in the ratings if Ted were replaced by someone competent.
  • Karma Houdini: Ted Baxter in the finale. His inept reporting skills and high opinion of himself should have gotten him fired, and yet he's the only one who still has a job.
  • Kavorka Man: After Lou's wife divorces him, he demonstrates a surprising ability to attract women. One episode ends with him caught between two women and deciding to date both of them at once, Sue Ann has a crush on him, and in the next-to-last episode even Mary has to admit she's interested in Lou.
  • Knock-Knock Joke: Ted got stuck trying to come up with one using the name "Anna Maria Alberghetti". He finally figures out a punchline by the end of the episode:

Anna Maria Alberghetti in a taxi honey, better be ready 'bout half past eight....

  • Large Ham: Phyllis is this in-universe, managing to turn everything into life-or-death drama, even Ted's failed campaign for City Council:

"I believed in us. I felt we had such bright, untarnished hopes for the future. I felt we had mountains to climb, promises to keep. But the light failed, Ted! The dream died!"

  • Last-Name Basis: Everyone calls Lou by his first name except Mary, who insists on calling him "Mr. Grant". She only calls him "Lou" when she's angry at him or, in one of the last episodes, when they go on a date.
  • Left It In: In one episode, Mary is interviewing a male author with the intention of cutting in a tape of Murray asking the questions later. At the end, the author asks Mary out. The final result that is broadcast shows Murray being asked out by the author.
  • Likes Older Women: In the episode "It Was Fascination, I Know", Mary finds herself the object of a 15-year-old's affections.
    • In "He's All Yours", Mary gets chased after by a new cameraman at the station, who's barely in his 20s.
  • "Ma'am" Shock:
    • The ages of the characters was treated as a major issue early on.
  • Mad Magazine: The Mary Tailor-Made Show.
  • Man Child: Ted, who cries when he doesn't get his way, whimpers when he's afraid, and giggles at any reference to sex.
  • Ms. Fanservice: A number of episodes, particularly in the early seasons, contrived excuses for Moore to display her celebrated legs. Parodied by Mad Magazine, which had Mary declare "time to show off my legs!" and change into a tennis outfit for no reason.
  • My Friends and Zoidberg: "Well Mary, there's something you have to remember about poker. It doesn't matter if you win or lose. It's being involved in a group activity with people you like. And Ted."
  • Naive Newcomer: Mary kind of started out as one.
  • Never My Fault: Phyllis.

"Lars came over to me, put his arm around me, and said 'Darling, don't you think it would be a good idea, in view of the high cost of living, that you try to keep your spending down a little?' I turned to him and said 'Darling, why don't you go suck an egg?' And that's when Lars started the argument."

Rhoda: Face it, Mare. How long can we keep up this Felix and Oscar routine?

  • Official Couple: Ted and Georgette starting in the third season.
    • In season 6 there was an attempt to give Mary a regular boyfriend, played by Ted Bessell, but the character was dropped without explanation.
  • Oh, Mr. Grant!: Trope Namer.
    • Note that this is a case where the Trope Namer does not actually employ said trope; the name comes from a writers-room joke.
  • One-Sided Arm Wrestling: Subverted in that Lou would let the old man win.
  • Plucky Office Girl: Mary, initially.
  • Poorly-Disguised Pilot: "His Two Right Arms" was a pilot for a proposed series about an incompetent city councilman (played by Bill Daily) and his wacky but competent staff. CBS didn't pick it up to series, and Daily went on to join The Bob Newhart Show a year later.
    • Averted with Rhoda, Phyllis and Lou Grant. All of them made their pilots separately from the main series.
    • Arguably the episode in which Rhoda invites Mary to her sister's wedding could be considered something of a pilot as it looks like a rough version run-through of Rhoda with a few retools to come, not the least being switching Married Debbie for Single Brenda.
  • Promotion to Opening Titles: Completely averted. Nobody but Mary Tyler Moore herself was ever named in the show's opening.
  • Really Gets Around: Sue Ann Nivens.
  • Required Spinoff Crossover: Mary appeared in several episodes of both Rhoda and Phyllis. For Rhoda's Wedding Day two-parter on the former, *all* of the MTM regulars (save for Ted and Sue Ann) showed up.
    • Averted hard however on Lou Grant. The only character from MTM to appear was three-time guest character Flo Meredith (Mary's aunt), played by Eileen Heckart.
  • Reunion Show
  • Running Gag: The Teddy Awards, Mary's disastrous dinner parties (lampshaded in later episodes), Ted's speech about the "five-thousand-watt radio station in Fresno, California", Lou's drinking, etc.
  • The Scrooge: Ted. The show had a seemingly endless supply of gags about his reluctance to spend any money, even though he's the highest-paid employee at the station.
  • Ship Sinking: Toward the end of the series, the writers addressed the Mary/Lou 'shipping that had become popular among fans (and even among some of the writers) by having Mary and Lou try dating... and break into giggles after they kiss, realizing that they will never work as a romantic couple.
  • Shout-Out: In later seasons, the opening credits feature two scenes in which Mary is seen interacting with people connected with the show. The first scene shows Mary walking in the park when two joggers run by her: creators James L. Brooks and Allan Burns. The second scene shows Mary dining at a restaurant with an older man: Moore's then-husband, Grant Tinker, who also served as co-founder and president of the show's production company, MTM Enterprises, and would later become even more well known as "the man who saved NBC", when he served as the network's chairman and CEO from 1981 to 1986.
    • The opening also has a scene of Mary washing her car while donning a Fran Tarkenton (Minnesota Vikings QB) jersey.
    • If you look closely at the WJM program grid on the wall of the Station Manager's office, you'll see My Mother the Car is shown several times a day. This is an in-joke to the Old Shame shared between Brooks and Burns.
  • Show Within a Show
  • Sitcom Arch Nemesis: Phyllis, for Rhoda.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Ted Baxter, the former Trope Namer.
  • Snowed In: "The Snow Must Go On" (which combines this trope with The Show Must Go On, hence the punny title); "Not a Christmas Story".
  • Special Guest: Johnny Carson attends one of Mary's dinner parties. Unfortunately, a power outage strikes just before he arrives, so we only get to hear his voice. His credit in the closing credits, which normally showed the guest, was a black screen.
    • Ted Baxter meets Walter Cronkite in one episode.
    • Lou's friend does a heck of a Betty Ford imitation.
    • Technically, Cloris Leachman was never a full-time regular on the show, and was always billed as "Special Guest Star" for her appearances.
  • Spin-Off: There were three - Rhoda, Phyllis and Lou Grant.
    • And oddly enough, that last one was a drama and it was the most successful one!
  • Spotlight-Stealing Squad: Ted was the focus of a hugely increased number of episodes in the last few seasons.
  • Stepford Smiler: Sue Ann is so into her TV persona as the sweetly helpful "Happy Homemaker" that she acts like that all the time, onscreen and off, smiling even when saying the meanest or dirtiest things.
  • Stock Sitcom Grand Finale: The Trope Maker.
  • Straw Critic: Karl Keller (Eric Braeden) in "The Critic" embodies this trope in its purest form, a Smug Snake who hates everything except obscure European art movies.
    • Another Straw Critic was, as far as I recall, never physically shown, but Murray had written a play, the crew performed it, and this guy savaged it in his review. Mary was the only one whose performance he had anything good to say about. Everyone was devastated -- until Mary discovered that this critic had been equally vitriolic about some of the most highly praised (by everyone else) theatrical performances of the last twenty years or so.[2] Basically, if he said it was bad, it was almost guaranteed to be good. Everybody brightened up as Mary read them hilarious quotes that revealed how wrong this fellow always was. And then she stopped to wonder if this meant her acting wasn't any good.
  • Straw Feminist: Phyllis, who considers herself a great progressive, can be this on occasion.

Phyllis: [after Mary is fired] It's obviously a case of sexual discrimination.
Mary: No, Phyl, they fired the guys too.
Phyllis: Oh, Mary, you little goose! That was just to cover their tracks!

  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: When Phyllis is worried about her brother and Rhoda spending a lot of time together, she reasons that saying anything to dissuade them will probably just bring them closer together. To prevent that from happening she resolves to be "passive, even kindly", and when Rhoda walks into the room a moment later...

Phyllis: "Rhoda...I want you to know, dear...that I am not sick to my stomach over you and Ben."

  • Take That: The writers would sometimes put in disparaging references to the cheesy late-'60s sitcoms this show was rebelling against, including Gilligans Island, The Brady Bunch (re-named "The Clancy Clan") and co-creator Allan Burns's own Old Shame My Mother the Car.
  • The Talk: One episode has Phyllis enlisting Mary to give this to her daughter Bess.
  • That Didn't Happen: Mary and Lou are both completely squicked out after they kiss.
  • Thematic Theme Tune: "Love Is All Around", written and sung by Sonny Curtis. A different version was used beginning in the second season.
  • Twenty Minutes Into the Future:
    • Lou's idea to have a cameraman ride along in a policecar to film an on the spot arrest predated COPS by about 15 years.
    • In one episode Ted looked for Coffee Bags ... guess what Folgers and other companies now make.
    • Les (Jerry Van Dyke) had the idea to broadcast the WJM 6:00 News from the newsroom...an idea many later news-shows adapted, most notably ABC's World News Now.
  • Unlimited Wardrobe: Mary, despite references to her limited clothing budget. Lampshaded by Ted a couple of times.

"Georgette keeps asking me why you have more clothes than she does. I tell her it's because all your outfits are reversible."

  • Wacky Guy: Ted verges on this. Most of the wackier plots and tropes involve him.
  • Welcome Episode
  • We Want Our Jerk Back: Any time Lou acts unusually nice or considerate, his employees take it as a sign that there's something very wrong.

Mary: We have got to do something about Mr. Grant. He hasn't yelled at anybody in days. He's not drinking. This is terrible!

    • Averted in the episode in which Ted has a minor heart attack on the air which changes his personality. The gang likes the new Ted and start to adopt his new outlook just as he snaps out of it.
  • What Does She See in Him?: Brought up by Mary in the episode where Georgette marries Ted.

Georgette: Mary, I know what you're getting at, and believe me, I know how Ted can be. Nobody knows that better than I do. But I know how I feel.
Mary: You do love him, then?
Georgette: Of course, Mary. Somebody has to!

  1. One example is the episode "Put on a Happy Face"; Mary's up for a Teddy award, which she's sure she won't win but feels an obligation to attend since she's nominated. At first her only problem is that she has no date, but things go downhill from there. She sleeps on her hair wrong so that it's lopsided at work. On the way to the washroom to try to fix it, she slips and sprains her ankle. After going to the hospital, she catches a cold from soaking her foot. Then the almost brand new dress she planned to wear is ruined by an inept cleaner and she needs to borrow an ugly-looking one (by 1970s standards) from Rhoda. After that, desperate not to go to the awards alone, she takes Ted up on his earlier offer to fix her up with a guy who's kind of like a "good-looking Robert Redford", at which time he tells her "April fool!" and reveals that the guy is him. Ted shows up and is appalled by Mary's appearance (her dress, her flat hair because her hair dryer broke, and her being sick) and is very reluctant to be seen in public with her. On the way to the awards, Mary gets rained on and steps in a puddle. When they get there, Ted pretends that she's his sister and a last-minute replacement for his real date. Then Mary loses one of her false eyelashes at the table...and that's when she's invited onstage in front of dozens of people to receive the Teddy that she ended up winning after all:
  2. He said Death of a Salesman "died" on its first night. As for Richard Burton's Hamlet, it wasn't just Burton's acting he didn't like; he thought the script stunk!