While I don’t want this blog to be nothing but eulogies, I feel it is important to note the passing of Mary Tyler Moore. Outside of Lucille Ball, there probably isn’t a single woman who hadn’t made a stronger impact on television. More specifically, MTM was Generation-X’s Lucille Ball in the sense that the glory days of MTM shows were the 70s and early 80s. A listing of MTM shows is a literal cavalcade of excellence.
- Mary Tyler Moore Show
- Bob Newhart Show
- Lou Grant
- WKRP in Cincinatti
- Hill Street Blues
- St. Elsewhere
- Remington Steele
MTM sitcoms continued the legacy of filmed sitcoms started by Lucille Ball. Even as many sitcoms (such as those created by Norman Lear) switched to video, MTM continued to shoot on film. This tradition was then carried over by the Charles brothers who went on to create sitcoms much in the MTM mold, namely Taxi, Cheers, and Frasier. This lineage continued all the way to the switchover from analog to digital cameras.
When I think of the glory days of MTM sitcoms, I think of the bronze age of pre-disco 70s. It’s important to remember that these sitcoms were primarily aimed at an adult audience, namely the PARENTS of Generation-X. When I was very young, I was mostly eavesdropping on the viewing habits of my parents and not getting a lot of the more mature punch-lines. As the shows got into reruns I was able to follow the plots a little bit closer and while I wouldn’t say they were loaded with sex, they were still “grown-up” problems, not the kind of simple humor in something like a Diff’rent Strokes or Happy Days. This window into the lives of adults actually helped me see what was ahead of the curve and made me feel a little more sophisticated than the average kid.
More specifically, I’d say adult women were probably the core demographic for most of these shows. I knew this at a very young age because some of these ads used to play opposite shows like Bob Newhart.
These shows epitomize the me-decade: upward mobility before the term “yuppie” was coined. Wide lapels and pornstaches, shag carpeting and paneled walls. What’s also really curious about them is most did NOT feature children. That’s why the emphasis was so much on adult concerns rather than it being about the kids.
When it comes to that aspect, I really do think that too much is made of what we see on TV needing to mirror the viewer’s identity. While it was a huge stretch for me at a very young age to attempt to follow the MTM sitcoms, I think it was good for me to attempt it. It helped stretch my perceptions beyond children’s programming. These days demographic targeting is so precise and choice is so immense that there’s little incentive for people to watch anything outside of their comfort-zone.
When it comes to the Mary Tyler Moore show itself, I can’t say I was a huge fan of Mary’s comedic acting. I wouldn’t say she was bad. She definitely anchored her show, but as a kid I gravitated much more towards the childlike qualities of Ted Knight.
It also helped his kid street-cred to be the voice of the earliest incarnation of The Seeeeyooo-perfriends!
So I wish I had a particular memorable clip of Mary herself that sticks with me, but I’m afraid there isn’t one. She’s more of an overall symbol of a cultural era, something that is definitely a part of me, and for that I’ll pay my respects.