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The Mary Tyler Moore Show first aired in 1970. (AP)

The Women Who Inspired Other Women With 'Mary Tyler Moore'

by NPR Staff
May 26, 2013 (Weekend Edition Sunday)

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Jennifer Keishin Armstrong spent a decade on staff at Entertainment Weekly and now writes for several magazines including New York Magazine, Fast Company and Writer's Digest.

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In the '60s, many of the women on television were cute, a little silly and married. A couple shows even featured women who were sweetly supernatural — think Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie. Mary Richards, though, was single, sassy and filled with joy. She was practically magic to a new generation of women.

The beloved Mary Tyler Moore Show went on the air in 1970, and now, more than four decades years later, it's still a source of inspiration.

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong has written a new history of the show. She talked to the women behind the show — some of the first women to break into the industry — about how the show made it to air and beyond.

The book is called Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted. Armstrong joined Rachel Martin, the host of Weekend Edition Sunday, to explain how the creators of The Mary Tyler Moore Show wanted their star character to be different from the women who were on TV at that time.


Interview Highlights

On writing a different kind of woman

"Originally, they had intended for her to be divorced, because they felt like that was something that everyone was going through and talking about at the time. They did not get the divorced part through with CBS, but they did manage to have her be single and working ... [James L. Brooks and Alan Burns] brought in a lot of talented female writers, more than most shows had ever done before. ... The first person they hired to write for the show was named Treva Silverman, and they loved her work. She became a very intrinsic part of the development of the show, and how the show took shape, developed over the first several seasons."

On working in an office that didn't work for them

"One of the early and lone champions of the show at CBS was Ethel Winant. She was the only woman in the sort of executive ranks, and so there was an executive bathroom, but there was only one. ... So she would leave her high heels outside the door so that men knew she was in there, because there was no lock on the door either, of course."

On breaking ground, but staying safe

"They realized that their whole deal was to be very character-driven, and if that meant at times, Lou gets a divorce, so be it, but that had to come from the character and they had to do it in a really realistic way. They ended up doing a lot of things like that. They had an episode with a gay character, where Phyllis' brother turns out to be gay. They only did that, though, when they felt like it was the right thing for all of the characters."

On "Mary" echoed today

"I think we see it all over the place. ... We've had this incredible spate of shows about single girls, lots of them very good, but yeah, you know, I think that a lot of the young women who are creating shows are affected by this show. ... Combining the pathos and the funny is really a hallmark of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, so I think it is all over the place."

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