Monday, April 15, 2024

Tonight is the Actual 50th Anniversary of the Debut of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” the Best Sitcom Ever


It’s hard to believe, but “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” debuted 50 years ago tonight on CBS. Now I feel really old!

I am of the school that holds “MTM” still as as the best sitcom ever. It’s character driven and the characters– while eccentric– are never made fun of. Even Ted Baxter, the buffoon, is loved by his friends. Phyllis Lindstrom and Sue Anne Nivens, each self – centered, are sympathetic. The result are fully formed stories that lasted seven years and produced 41 Emmy Awards. “MTM” also launched a raft of other shows including “Rhoda” and “Lou Grant,” and a company that produced memorable dramas like “Hill Street Blues” and “St. Elsewhere.”

There are many favorite “MTM” episodes, including the pilot with the famous ‘I hate spunk’ exchange, and Mary, Phyllis, and Rhoda all meeting for the first time. I can’t show 168 episodes here, but one of my favorites, that I love to quote, was called “The Dinner Party” aka Veal Prince Orloff, Season 4, Episode 10. Mary throws one of her infamous disastrous dinner parties for a congresswoman. Sue Anne has catered the meal but there’s only enough for six people. Rhoda brings a guy from work who’s been fired (Henry Winkler, pre-“Happy Days”). And hilarity ensues.

I can’t believe Mary Tyler Moore, Valerie Harper, Ted Knight, and Georgia Engel (who joined the show later) are all gone. But Ed Asner, Gavin McLeod, Cloris Leachman, and of course the mighty Betty White are all still here. So is James L. Brooks. Happy anniversary to them all!

PS Here’s a little trivia. The Mary Tyler Moore Show was such a hot commodity that all kinds of people wanted to be on it during its run from 1970 to 1977. One week, Carole King — who was huge on the radio then — did a walk on, said little, and was listed in the after credits as “Carole Larkey,” her then married name. I asked her 20 years later why and how it happened, but she had no actual reason. Can you imagine a pop star like Taylor Swift doing that now?

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Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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