SAN DIEGO, Jan 30, 2012 – Upon receiving her Lifetime Achievement Award on Sunday night from the Screen Actors Guild, actress Mary Tyler Moore received an outpouring of affection in the way the modern world knows best: as a trending topic on Google and Twitter.
Generations of women grew up with Mary, first as Laura Petrie on “The Dick Van Dick Show,” and then starting in 1970 as Mary Richards on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”
For seven years on CBS, the series depicting the life of a single career woman in a Minneapolis newsroom was one of the most literate, realistic and enduring situation comedies of all time. Part of what made the show so great is the outstanding cast including Betty White, Cloris Leachman, Ed Asner, Valerie Harper, and Ted Knight. The show won three Emmys for Outstanding Comedy Series its final three years on the air.
But it’s hard to imagine just how groundbreaking Moore’s character was for women at the time. The show featured the first never-married, independent career woman as the central character, not a wife or mother, but a single woman in her thirties who was not widowed or divorced or seeking a man to support her.
Mary Richards was the first “grownup” career woman on TV, a real person with insecurities and fears, but also strong, competent, practical, above all a likeable person, a good friend and decent human being; willing to laugh at herself and carry on no matter what. She didn’t live in the shadow of her daddy or her boyfriend. She had a good life defined on her own terms. Her family was the family she created among her workplace and her neighborhood.
Every sitcom actress on television from that point forward owes her career to Mary Tyler Moore, from Kirstie Alley on “Cheers” to the cast of “Friends;” Julia Louis-Dreyfuss on “Seinfeld,’ and today to Tina Fey and Zooey Deschanel.
But as good as some of these women are as performers and talents, their shows are missing a single key ingredient that made us want to spend our Saturday evenings with Mary.
Mary possessed the magic spark of life: optimism. She wasn’t rich, famous, married to a fabulous person, more than moderately successful. But she was self-sufficient, happy, and trusted something good would come from each new day. And if not? Well, there was always tomorrow. She always gave her best, even when she failed. And when she did fail, it didn’t bring her down for long.
For young women at the time, watching Mary Richards make it made us believe we could make it, too. She wasn’t Wonder Woman. She seemed so much like us. She inspired an entire generation in a far more powerful way than the strident, scary feminists of the day.
A friend described watching “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” like being invited to a friend’s house, where spending time with Mary was sometimes funny, sometimes sad – but you always turned off the TV feeling uplifted, given something that made your life better. We felt good being with Mary.
In today’s era of television comedy, storylines seem to be about who can score the most points for being snarky, or grossing out their friends, their family, their neighbors or co-workers. There is plenty of effort spent being crude for the sake of it, FCC or not. And while there is nothing wrong with a little smart raunch, viewers become numb to it when that’s all we are offered. Scripted comedies are competing with reality TV and viewers aren’t getting the best of it.
A statue in downtown Minneapolis recalls the signature moment of the opening of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” where Mary relishes the simple joy of being in charge of her own life and knowing she can handle whatever comes her way, exuberantly tossing her hat into the air. Thanks to video and cable networks like TV Land, generations of viewers have come to know and love Mary Richards, who always trusted that “someday you’re going to make it after all.”
More than four decades later, at a time when many people are struggling with economic hardship and uncertainties about the future, we could use a little of Mary Richards’ optimism more than ever. We’d like to know we’re going to make it after all too.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. Read more Media Migraine in the Communities at The Washington Times. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.
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Copyright © 2012 by Falcon Valley Group
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