Seeing Things, Saying Things

Musings About Writing, Photography and Teaching

As Mary Richards, Mary Tyler Moore Gave Me a Window Into Urban Professional Life

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The cast of the Mary Tyler Moore Show during the final episode, which aired in 1977.

The death this week of actress Mary Tyler Moore brought back pleasant memories of nights spent watching her on television.

I first watched her in the Dick Van Dyke Show, which aired on Wednesdays in the 1960s. It came on at 8 p.m. (central time) so I was able to see it just ahead of my mandated bedtime.

Like so many programs of the 1960s, it was light comedy of which I remember only bits and pieces. It was just something to watch.

That was not the case, though, with The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which began airing in 1970 when I was in high school and starting to look ahead to adult life.

Many have observed that Moore’s character, Mary Richards, personified the 30-something modern woman of the time but what I identified with was the urban professional lifestyle that she led.

I grew up in a small town in east central Illinois and wanted to leave there for the big city.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show was my window into what life was like or could be like in the city for a young professional.

Although I had an interest in journalism and worked as a reporter for my college newspaper during a portion of the run of the show, journalism was not my career goal for most of the years that I watched the program.

Critics have widely praised The Mary Tyler Moore Show. It was listed by the Writers Guild of America as No. 6 on the list of the 101 Best Written TV Series of All Time.

Some facets of the show were cartoonish, but it was, after all, a comedy. The writers of the show were not shy about taking on life issues in a serious way.

I appreciated the realistic view that not all conflicts and adverse situations end with people living happily ever after nor are all life issues resolved if they are ever resolved at all.

This mirrored the real life that I was beginning to see in which relationships break apart, dreams are crushed and limitations never exceeded.

Mary Richards had a pragmatic streak that was personified in the opening sequence in which she looks at the price of an item in a grocery store, gets a look of disgust on her face, and then throws it into her cart, giving in to her desire to have it while wishing it didn’t cost so much.

Variety noted that despite its willingness to wade into social issues, The Mary Tyler Moore Show was not as overtly political or socially conscious as other shows of the era.

The creators of the show also had to make changes, including dropping their plan for Mary to be coming off a divorce. They opted for a back story of Mary having been dumped by her former boyfriend.

Nonetheless, I found The Mary Tyler Moore Show to be refreshing and even inspiring in its own way.

I also noted the shift in the lyrics of the theme song that opened the program. It went from “you might just make it” to “you’re gonna make it after all.”

It was the sort of optimistic view that a young adult needs during a time of uncertainty mixed with the blind optimism of youth.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show aired for the final time in 1977 and I watched that last episode, curious as to how it would all end. Even that last show had an unexpected twist with Mary introducing the cast during a curtain call shown as the ending credits rolled across the screen.

By then I had settled into being a newspaper reporter in my Illinois hometown. I wasn’t living the urban professional lifestyle portrayed in The Mary Tyler Moore show, but getting to the city remained my goal.

Ed Asner, the actor who portrayed Mary’s boss, Lou Grant, would that year begin his own TV show in which he portrayed the city editor of a Los Angeles newspaper.

I would watch Lou Grant as religiously as I had The Mary Tyler Moore Show and for many of the same reasons. It was a window into a life that I longed to have.


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