Thirty No More: Mary Richards Turns The Big Five-Oh!

Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday! This week, we’re celebrating the 50th anniversary of The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977, CBS), which debuted on CBS at 9:30 PM on Saturday, September 19th, 1970. As regular readers of this blog know, I hold Moore’s series — the inaugural effort from the influential MTM enterprise — in the highest regard, primarily for its successful, consistent use of well-defined characters to propel funny, but logical, weekly stories.

In fact, it’s the high-water mark for the character-driven style of situation comedy that I champion, and it’ll always hold a special place in my heart for this reason. So, for subscribers — who comment below to alert me of their interest — I’ve got a rare treat: access to Jim Brooks and Allan Burns’ initial 21-page treatment. Dated January 1970, this outline for the first episode of a new vehicle for The Dick Van Dyke Show’s Mary Tyler Moore is, as you’ll notice, already pretty close to what we’d see in its premiere, with only a few tweaks (like name changes for some of the regular characters). Here’s a sample of the document — the thesis.

And, while I already covered my picks for the series’ finest episodes in 2014, I want to give readers who are maybe still unfamiliar with this classic a starting reference point. Here are the three offerings I consider the best of the best of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

  • Episode 71: “Put On A Happy Face” (Aired: 02/24/73) — Mary gets to clown!
  • Episode 73: “The Lars Affair” (Aired: 09/15/73) — the debut of Betty White
  • Episode 127: “Chuckles Bites The Dust” (Aired: 10/25/75) — hilarious, classic



Come back next week for another Wildcard! And stay tuned for a new Musical Theatre Monday!

23 thoughts on “Thirty No More: Mary Richards Turns The Big Five-Oh!

  1. Would love to see this treatment! Thank you for all you do to recognize sitcoms! Still love reading your work!

    • Hi, Derek! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I know you’ve commented here before, but I’m not seeing any recognizable email address associated with you on my subscribers list. If this is an error, please check and let me know the date you subscribed here.

      If not, be sure to subscribe using your preferred email address so I can send a copy of this treatment your way!

  2. Little late to the game here, but I found this posted online about a month ago and thought it was interesting in terms of how we remember the pilot episode of the series, versus how this 3 1/2-minute piece for CBS’ 1970 fall preview was done, in that we get the famous “I hate spunk” meeting scene between Mary and Lou, but we get it shot single-camera without a live studio audience.

    In a way, it reminds me of how the changeover from single to multi-camera format was such an asset for the other major sitcom that debuted in the fall of 1970, “The Odd Couple”, in that the energy just feels lower and the pacing just slightly off here, with Moore and Ed Asner having to play the scene (on a different set than Lou’s eventual office) to fit a canned laugh track, as opposed to the immediate response of a live audience. We never had to see a full season of single-camera “Mary Tyler Moore”, and Asner’s still working to figure out how to play his role here, but the one excerpt indicates an MTM show without the three-camera format likely would have been a lesser season than the first one we actually got.

    • Hi, wotppaper! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Yes, that test scene is an excellent affirmation of a core tenet in my philosophy regarding sitcoms — that a live audience improves the product by giving both the actors and writers an immediate chance to modulate their work, with an inherent motive for invoking laughter that’s absent in the single-camera format.

      Please click around this blog — I’ve written pieces before on this idea, and even have a section dedicated to it on the About page — for more of my thoughts on the strengths of the multi-camera setup.

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