Lou: “You know what? You’ve got spunk. I hate spunk.”
I was not around to see The Mary Tyler Moore Show when it originally aired, but I watched the syndicated reruns during my younger years. Along with Ann Marie on That Girl and Liz Lemon on 30 Rock, these television women have become my creative and inspirational heroes.
Single and outspoken 30 year-old Mary Richards moves to Minneapolis and applies for a secretary gig at the local television station. The position is filled, and the gruff Lou Grant, played by Ed Asner, offers her the position of associate producer of “The Six O’Clock News.” Richards is thrust into the environment of having male work colleagues while still composing a kind, sincere demeanor combined with comedy. She paved the way for future fearless female characters who can strive without shedding personality and independence.
“She was one of the few single working women depicted on television at the time.” – Michelle Obama
What Marlo Thomas gave to That Girl, Mary Tyler Moore ran with that while incorporating social evolution to the female lead. The show depicted growth and awareness to social change during the 1970s. By the time the third season arrived, topics about equal pay for women, homosexuality and pre-marital sex were plugged into episode plots. The following season saw themes of extramarital affairs and divorce among some characters. The show explored death, Mary being jailed for contempt and befriending a prostitute who needed help. Mary later deals with sleeping pill addiction while fellow colleague Ted faces marital problems and infertility. During the course of the series, Mary dates a few men but never settles down. When the show ends, it is not because she is deciding to settle down, as a typical storyline may follow.
What the Mary Tyler Moore Show gave to the future of women
Mary Richards gave inspiration to other amazing characters like Liz Lemon. When she was working on 30 Rock, Tina Fey cited Mary Tyler Moore as inspiration and used that dynamic between Liz Lemon and her male co-workers.
“Our goal is to try to be like The Mary Tyler Moore Show, where it’s not about doing the news,” Fey said in an interview in Entertainment Weekly.
Former First Lady Michelle Obama recognized Moore’s character in a recent Variety article as someone she looked up to.
“She was one of the few single working women depicted on television at the time,” Obama says. “She wasn’t married. She wasn’t looking to get married. At no point did the series end in a happy ending with her finding a husband — which seemed to be the course you had to take as a woman. But she sort of bucked that. She worked in a newsroom, she had a tough boss, and she stood up to him. She had close friends, never bemoaning the fact that she was a single. She was very proud and comfortable in that role.”
Mary Tyler Moore’s death on January 25th has brought an outpouring of memories and comments about a character that inspired so many women. The articles and blog posts all contain the same theme from Laura’s capri pants in The Dick Van Dyke Show to her independent mindset on the show of her own name. It is major conversation that comes off the heels of the last weekend where women and supporters all over the world painted their cities “Pussy Hat Pink,” making a major statement, post- Inauguration.
Just remember: You’re gonna make it after all.