There are television shows and there are television shows. The first is watchable and entertaining, but ultimately, fades from memory. The second lives on and continues to reach audiences across the generations.
The Dick Van Dyke Show originally ran for five years, from 1961-1966. Created by the late Carl Reiner, the show starred Dick Van Dyke and the late Mary Tyler Moore. Van Dyke played Rob Petrie, a TV writer who lived in the suburbs and worked in the city. Tyler Moore played Laura Petrie, Rob’s wife who was a homemaker.
There is a reason why sixty years on, this program is as revered and beloved as it was during its original run. Though it has the flavor of the family sitcoms of the era (e.g. Father Knows Best), it is a bridge to the modern family sitcoms that we watch today. Unlike their predecessors, the characters are imperfect humans who like the rest of us, are trying to get by.
The program was also revolutionary because Laura wore pants. Up to that point, the mothers in this genre all wore dresses or skirts. Though it is not a huge moment in the march for equality, it was a step that looked upon today is ground breaking.
She was more than TV star or a movie star. She was icon.
Her self titled sitcom, The Mary Tyler Moore Show was on the air from 1970-1977. Mary Richards (Mary Tyler Moore) is a single woman, employed as an associate producer at a fictional television station in Minneapolis. In the 1970’s, this was revolutionary. It was feminism hitting the main stream in a way that made it palatable to the average American. Mary Richards paved the way not just for the generation of young women growing up in the 1970’s, but for future generations of women to stand on their own two feet and not simply reply on the traditional state of matrimony.
Mary Richards was very much the modern woman. So was the woman who played her. In addition to starring on the show, she had a hand in crafting show, joining long line of past and future female show runners.
The Mary Tyler Moore Show may have aired its last episode 40 years ago, but the show, its legacy and its leading lady will live on.
Betty White may not be 120, but she comes pretty close today, on her 95th birthday. Her career has lasted nearly a century. Starting her career in radio in the 1940’s, she made the transition to television in the 1950’s. Generations of television fans have grown up with her, laughed with her and adored her.
For my part, I remember watching The Golden Girls as a kid. Rose Nylund was not the sharpest tack in the box, but there was something endearing about. Maybe it was those crazy St. Olaf stories.
Before Golden Girls, there was Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Sue Ann was sweet as apple pie, when she needed or wanted to be. But behind the sweetness was the barbs.
Someone once said that age is nothing but number. Betty White proved that when she hosted Saturday Night Live in 2010, holding her own against performers decades younger than she.
She continues to inspire fans and fellow performers with her humor, her commitments to animals rights causes and proof that old age, especially in women is not a reason to sit back and let someone else enjoy life.
Happy Birthday, Betty White. May you actually live to 120.
In the 1970’s television began to reflect the changing reality. Women were shucking off the chains that kept past generations tethered to the home and approved of “female activities” and began to make their own mark on the world.
In 1970, Mary Tyler Moore premiered. Mary Richards (Mary Tyler Moore) is a single woman working in a newsroom. Unlike past generations of female characters, the show does not revolve around her desire to marry and settle down. Mary has her friends and her colleagues (and yes, she does date), but she is content as she is.
Mary Tyler Moore was a ground breaking show. Mary Richards showed a generation of women that they can find jobs outside of what was considered acceptable for a woman. She also proved that while it is lovely to have a significant other, it is not the be and end all of our existence.
Six years later, Laverne and Shirley premiered. A spinoff of Happy Days, Laverne DeFazio (Penny Marshall) and Shirley Feeney (Cindy Williams) are best friend and roommates living in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Both are single and working, but do not lack a social life.
Laverne and Shirley inherited the female comedy throne that was left vacant when I Love Lucy ended. Yes, these girls are crazy, but they proved that female friendships do work and one does not need a boyfriend to survive.