News Column

They made it on-air after all

August 25, 2013


Aug. 25--JENNIFER KEISHIN Armstrong is eminently qualified to write about pop culture. Not only was she for 10 years a staffer at Entertainment Weekly, but she's previously authored a history of TV's original "Mickey Mouse Club." However, there's nothing Mickey Mouse about "Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted: And All the Brilliant Minds Who Made 'The Mary Tyler Moore Show' a Classic."

With a title redolent of "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice," Armstrong's "Mary and Lou" seems designed to capitalize on readers' memories of that time. When I was in college back in the early '70s, I didn't have much in the way of disposable income. So TV watching and occasional beer guzzling were the only drains on my leisure budget.

Saturday nights were an especially great night to stay home and leave the set tuned to CBS, where viewers could check out all-new episodes of "All in the Family," "M*A*S*H," "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," "The Bob Newhart Show" and "The Carol Burnett Show," what some still consider the finest lineup of all time.However, a few years before it looked like "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" would never air. When writer producers James L. Brooks and Allan Burns, who'd previously teamed up on the critical darling but ratings-challenged schoolroom drama "Room 222," dreamed up an edgy show about a divorced, 30-something woman with a career, CBS execs replied, "American audiences won't tolerate divorce in a series' lead any more than they will tolerate Jews, people with mustaches and people who live in New York."

Ironically, six years later when Rhoda Morgenstern's marriage on "Rhoda," a "Mary Tyler Moore" spinoff, ended up on the rocks, those same execs were left with a show on their hands featuring a character that was divorced, Jewish and living in NYC. Of course, she didn't have a mustache, but then again she did wear those awful head-scarf thingies.

Forty years later, "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" is one of the most beloved and recognizable TV shows of all time. It was an inspiration to a generation of women who wanted to have it all in an era when everything seemed possible. Armstrong tells the stories behind the making of this popular classic, introducing the groundbreaking female writers who lent their real-life stories to their scripts, the men who created the indelible characters and the lone woman TV exec who cast the colorful individuals who made up the show's legendary ensemble. "MTM" would "make it after all!"

Kurt Rabin is a copy editor at The Free Lance Star.


By Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

(Simon & Schuster, $26, 336 pp.)


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