Rayette Writes: Another Curious MTM Spec!

Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday! To complement the final few weeks of Friends coverage, I’d prepared to do commentary on its much-reviled spin-off, Joey (2004-2006, NBC). But I couldn’t bring myself to sit through all 46 episodes (even though a few aren’t terrible). Then I considered continuing the MSTV crossover trend and offering commentary on Caroline In The City. But that was even more of a time commitment. (You may see both series here at a future date — they’re mediocre, but I would definitely be able to pick notable favorites.) So, instead, I’ve opted to take these next three posts and circle back to television of an earlier vintage (where, admittedly, my heart truly lies), starting this week with an offering to subscribed readers (who comment below to let me know that they’re interested) of a spec script for The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977, CBS) that was co-written by one of its recurring players, Beverly Sanders, who played waitress Rayette for three episodes from 1971-’72.

You probably remember Sanders best from either her recurring role as the ever-pregnant Suzie on Rhoda (1974-1978, CBS) or as a regular on the single-season better-than-average sitcom Lotsa Luck (1973-1974, NBC), which is now being shown on Antenna TV… This script, entitled “Take It Off, Take It Off, Take It Off,” is credited to Sanders and Dick Valentine. It is registered with the WGA and appears to have been written sometime during the third season in 1972 — after Sanders’ last appearance on the series (when her character first was credited as “Rayette”) and before she got cast, in early 1973, as Olive on Lotsa Luck. In comparison to the MTM spec script featured on this blog recently — from two PAs who therefore also had an association with the company — this teleplay seems to have an even better understanding of the regulars’ voices, particularly Mary’s and Lou’s. Additionally, the premise — of Rhoda’s latest diet inspiring Lou to do a news story on diets (by way of Ted’s off-hand suggestion) — is a terrifically funny and character-driven bridge between Mary’s personal and professional lives. For a Season Three episode, this would have been ideal narrative fodder. Now, it’s not as laugh-out-loud funny as, say, a David Lloyd teleplay, but it’s pretty charactery, and with ample touch-ups from the regular staffers, it’s easy to see this becoming a memorable outing.

Alas, the idea wasn’t used and I don’t know quite what happened — why it wasn’t bought. However, I have a theory — pure conjecture — that Sanders got the idea after shooting her last appearance (“You’ve Got A Friend”) and then wrote it with Valentine… before she knew of Rhoda’s big weight-loss episode in “Rhoda The Beautiful,” which was likely produced just a few weeks earlier and about which Sanders would not have known until, likely, it aired months later. By that time, the show had already dealt with Harper’s weight loss and the character’s own body image issues in an effectively sincere way and it therefore didn’t need a jokey installment that treaded similar ground but without the same emotional gravitas… However, again, that’s pure conjecture, and should be taken as such, especially because the copy I have of this script — with notes likely from Sanders herself — is incomplete and stops in the middle of Act II (during the restaurant scene, likely the only one with her character, Rayette). Thus, I have no idea how the show resolved itself (let alone the circumstances around why it went unused).

Nevertheless, for subscribed critics and scholars who are fascinated by this material (having no commercial designs on it), if you comment below to alert me of your interest, I’d be delighted to share the incomplete draft! For everyone else, here’s a little taste…



Come back next week for another Wildcard entry! And tune in Tuesday for more Friends!

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