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Mary Tyler Moore: 1936-2017
January 25, 2017  | By David Bianculli  | 3 comments

Mary Tyler Moore died Wednesday at age 80. She was a true TV icon, being the beloved star of not one classic TV series, but two…

She became a star as Laura Petrie, the thoroughly modern wife of Dick Van Dyke’s Rob Petrie in Carl Reiner’s super-smart 1961-66 CBS sitcom, The Dick Van Dyke Show. She became an even bigger star as the single working woman Mary Richards in the 1970-77 CBS sitcom co-created by James L. Brooks, The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Between those two shows, Mary Tyler Moore won seven Emmys, and deserved every one of them.
My memories of her memorable, playful, adorable performances are quite vivid, in part because they’re so recent. Every semester at Rowan University, one of the courses I teach is called TV History & Appreciation of the 1960s and 1970s. Before the course is over, my students – and I – have seen a lot of Mary Tyler Moore.

From The Dick Van Dyke Show, there’s her hilarious showdown with Reiner’s Alan Brady, whom Laura has just outed as wearing a toupee, in “Coast-to-Coast Big Mouth.” In other episodes, there are scenes of her reacting angrily to being stood up by Rob at the altar, or with utter disbelief at being told her newborn baby is someone else’s, or with calm disbelief watching her husband overreact as her baby is about to be born.

And from The Mary Tyler Moore Show, there are the episodes where she first applies for a job with Ed Asner’s Lou Grant (“You’ve got spunk…”), and erupts in inappropriate laughter at the funeral of a colleague – the TV station’s children’s show performer, Chuckles the Clown (right).

In the Sixties, her Laura Petrie was smarter, sexier, funnier and more attracted to her husband than any sitcom wife of that decade, with the possible exception of Carolyn Jones’ Morticia Addams in The Addams Family. And in the Seventies, her Mary Richards was a feminist role model without ever stridently pushing the issue.

Both characters grew as much as they did, and became as embraced and as memorable, because of Mary Tyler Moore’s talent, and little touches. The way, as Laura, she cried “Oh, Rob…” – that, alone, was enough to make her, and keep her, a star.

This term, my students will watch these shows again – and they’re so young, they’ll watch without the twinge of sorrow that viewers around my age will have now that Moore is no more. But we’ll laugh anyway. We can’t help it.
She was too funny, and too good, not to.

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Paul Grein
I enjoyed your piece, but Mary won 6 Emmys for those two classic shows. Her seventh Emmy came later.
Jan 29, 2017   |  Reply
E Lomke
Even Mr. Grant likes spunk now.
Jan 29, 2017   |  Reply
Grant Tinker & Mary Tyler Moore.Two TV icons who were once a marriage and lead a successful production company,responsible for some of the best TV ever. Gone 90 days apart.
Hey,Rowan students:there is a history of outstanding talent in studying the lives of these two. Only the best.
Jan 26, 2017   |  Reply
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Good news, TVWW readers: David’s new book from Doubleday, The Platinum Age of Television: From I Love Lucy to The Walking Dead, How TV Became Terrific is available on Amazon for $20. (Paperback will be available September 5th, here.)

Doubleday says: “Darwin had his theory of evolution, and David Bianculli has his. Bianculli's theory has to do with the concept of quality television: what it is and, crucially, how it got that way."

"The Platinum Age of Television is an effusive guidebook that plots the path from the 1950s’ Golden Age to today’s era of quality TV. For instance, animation evolved from Rocky and His Friends to South Park; variety shows moved from The Ed Sullivan Show to Saturday Night Live; and family sitcoms grew from I Love Lucy to Modern Family. A high point is the author’s interviews with Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Norman Lear, Bob Newhart, Matt Groening, Larry David, Amy Schumer and many others...Bianculli has written a highly readable history." —The Washington Post


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