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Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted: And all the Brilliant Minds Who Made The Mary Tyler Moore Show a Classic Paperback – October 29, 2013
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"A rich chronicle of women making history." (TheAtlantic.com)
“A delightfully thorough history of the show, evoking in detail the making of a piece of pop-culture history and telling sweet tales about the colorful cast. But what really jumps from the page is the story of the women in the writers’ room.” (New York Daily News)
“A superb, highly entertaining history of one of television's most beloved sitcoms… A terrific pop culture history--well-written, lovingly researched and chock full of great stories from the Mary Tyler Moore Show set.” (Shelf Awareness for Readers)
“Compelling and highly readable, this book is as informative as it is charming…As enjoyable as reruns of the classic show.” (Bust)
"Armstrong takes us back to a golden age of comedy." (Washington Post)
“Delicious… For any fan of the show or TV history in general, this book is pure pleasure.” (Kirkus (starred review))
“Fast-paced and charming…Armstrong’s absorbing cultural history offers the first in-depth look at a series that changed television.” (Publishers Weekly)
"Poor dead Chuckles the Clown might be squirting seltzer water down the angels’ robes, but as long as intelligent comedy has a role in our lives, the chuckles and change that “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” wrought will never die. And Armstrong, in this smart and charming history, shows us why." (Richmond Times-Dispatch)
“Goes behind the scenes to reveal the often-bumpy creation of the show whose influence appears in contemporary TV comedies almost every night of the week. In telling the tale, Armstrong, a former Entertainment Weekly reporter, offers a breezy tour of the way things used to be in television.” (Portland Oregonian)
"A perfect microhistory of television and feminism and writing and money and pressure and the joy of creativity and those capri pants she wore." (The Hairpin)
About the Author
Jennifer Keishin Armstrong is the author of Sex and the City and Us, Seinfeldia, and Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted, a history of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. She writes about pop culture for several publications, including The New York Times Book Review, Fast Company, New York’s Vulture, BBC Culture, Entertainment Weekly, and others. She grew up in Homer Glen, Illinois, and now lives in New York City. Visit her online at JenniferKArmstrong.com.
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In that sense alone, the book is as revolutionary as the show was; most old-TV nostalgia dwells on celebrity memories. (There's been one of those books written about this show already, "Love is All Around.") But here, author Jennifer Keishin Armstrong knows television is really made by the creatives and show-runners and network executives behind the cameras, and the portrait she provides of the show's birth pangs and mostly happy seven seasons is nothing short of fascinating.
Mary Richards of WJM was, in turns out, a walking pastiche of real-life stories from real-life women given a creative voice in TV for the first time. We see the step-by-step genesis of the program's premise, tone, and characters, shepherded by James L. Brooks and Allan Burns, who, perhaps uniquely in 1970 Hollywood, recruited smart creative feminists -- some right out of college -- and generously assigned them storytelling power.
We are reminded how radical "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" was for the moment: daring to make Mary independent, interested in but not obsessed by men, alluding subtly to her offscreen sex life and, occasionally, her loneliness and self-doubt. (There had already been a gutsy-for-its-time sitcom about a single woman, "That Girl," but Marlo Thomas' Ann Marie was a sexy, ditsy kewpie doll - and clearly still a virgin.) It was this honesty, yet unseen on TV and terrifying to most CBS execs, that made men fall in love with Mary and women want to be Mary. Pulling it off took a corps of show staff strong enough to shrug off scathing first-phase criticism; as it premiered, both Time magazine and TV Guide dismissed "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" as a dud, and CBS kept wondering why Mary couldn't get into more zany scrapes, like Lucy Ricardo used to do. (They also feared Rhoda's overt Jewishness.)
If her writers threw themselves into their work with all-in missionary zeal, Moore herself comes off as markedly less brave: elusive, fragile, withholding (one director said she acted "from behind a wall of plastic"), and insecure. The show was conceived as her career-revival vehicle after a string of professional failures, and her only instructions at the start were to make her screen character similar to herself -- because she felt her acting range was so limited -- and to put her amid an ensemble, to take some pressure off. Nonetheless, Moore's name was in the title, and when the show took off and made Mary Richards a liberated feminist icon she was publicly diffident, even reluctant, about the role; her professional instinct, writes Armstrong, was to "do as she was told" - usually by strong men. Though Armstrong lauds her leadership, she seems borne on her writers' shoulders.
The rest of the cast comes off well, especially Valerie Harper, who at first had to camouflage her striking beauty and look like a schlub as Mary's second banana Rhoda. (The writers eventually fixed that; they found ways for all their characters to evolve, even the most cartoonish and shallow of them, Ted Baxter.) Armstrong spoke to many, but oddly, not Moore herself, it seems. All Moore's quotes are lifted from other sources. The mutual affection that made the players seem a real family, and had everyone onstage and off weeping real tears when the show ended in 1977 and the family dispersed, is well-known. But Armstrong shows us how the tone was set at the top -- not in Mr. Grant's office, but in Mr. Brooks' and Ms. Silverman's on the MTM Enterprises lot. Such benevolence of spirit: rare in any workplace; unheard of in TV.
I can't recall reading any better account of the making of great television. And of course here the result wasn't simply a show, but a cultural touchstone that remains touching and relevant to this day. (You can't say the same for the other "revolutionary" sitcom of the period, "All in the Family.") While most show staff and cast went on to numerous successes afterwards, Mary Tyler Moore herself notably did not; with the exception of her Oscar-nominated turn as a cold, imperious suburban mother in "Ordinary People," the public failed to respond to most of her projects. By 2000 she was reduced to sad Mary-and-Rhoda and Rob-and-Laura reunion specials. All of which only underlines the essential importance of a show's behind-the-scenes creative staff, and that of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" in particular. They captured the culture and made it their own, and in this great book Jennifer Keishin Armstrong has, just as expertly, captured them.
And, thankfully, I was not disappointed. Being a major fan of the show, there were stories in the book which I have read or seen before (on TV documentaries about the 1970-77 series), such as the disastrous first taping of the first episode and the late Ted Knight's unhappiness, mid-series, at being typecast as buffonish Ted Baxter (producers Allan Burns and Ed Weinberger worked diligently to re-inflate his ego only to have Jim Brooks unwittingly push a major pin into it).
But there were stories I've never heard before, such as superfan Joe Rainone, who painstakingly wrote critiques after every episode which soon got himself invited onto the set!
Where it lacks is in a balance in recounting the various writers' abilities to shape the show as it emerged and made its transition. Female writers such as Marilyn Suzanne Miller and Treva Silverman and Susan Silver have their careers covered extensively (and excellently, I might add, since Miller co-penned one of my favorite episodes, "Put On A Happy Face.") But valuable writers such as Ed Weinberger, Stan Daniels, David Lloyd and Bob Ellison are given short shrift in favor of other female writers Charlotte Brown and Gail Parent (extremely talented, no doubt there), who each wrote one script (Parent with partner Kenny Solms).
Armstrong's theme behind the book is how this TV series managed to shape the feminist movement in the 1970's. All well and good and no argument here, but being a man who loved the series as a teen, there should have been a better balance. It just was a damn funny show.
Still, Armstrong's book is more than worthwhile and you will get your money's worth.
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