We were lucky that our creative people were so tuned-in to what was happening in the world. It wasn’t that Jim Brooks and Alan Burns created “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” because they were interested in polemics for women’s rights – it wasn’t that kind of program. But they “were” interested in what was happening to women in our society and, like all good writers, they wrote about what was foremost in their minds.
Remember that when our show went on, we were considered very radical – so radical that there were prophecies of instant disaster. Mary Richards was not a widow. She’d never been married. She even hinted at having an affair! She was a mature woman in her thirties, not a young girl having a fling before marriage. She wasn’t even hunting for a husband! She was an ambitious career woman interested in her own work and making it on her own. Nothing like Mary Richards had happened in television before.
The original writers were eventually joined by people like David Lloyd, Ed Weinberg and Stan Daniels — as well as by such first-rate women writers as Charlotte Brown and Tricia Silverman. (Women like Joan Darling got their first chance to direct on our show too). Well, in devising situations for Mary – problems out of which the comedy could develop — these writers looked naturally to the basic issues of the women’s movement: unequal opportunity, unequal pay, chauvinistic attitudes. We were lucky because all our creative people were so aware and understood so clearly what was going on in the world and because they had such a sense of personal responsibility toward the subjects they wrote about.
There is no doubt that the success of our show opened the way for other television shows about women. Our own spin-offs “Rhoda” and “Phyllis,” for instance, are proof of this, as are some of Norman Lear’s shows like “Maude” and “One Day at a Time.” But I had nothing to do with it. I’m always annoyed when people give me the credit for developing our company, MTM Enterprises, and when they talk of my business acumen. I’m married to a very intelligent and perceptive producer, Grant Tinker, and he built the company and he runs it. I don’t.
I was never a militant women’s libber – though I have been very vocal about some of the inequities we still have. There’s a lot of Mary Richards in me – but there’s also a lot of Laurie Petrie, the housewife I played on the “Dick Van Dyke Show.”
Television is my medium — I’m convinced of that. I’m no longer concerned with doing a great movie, a great Broadway show. Of course, if a great part came along, I’d take it, but how many great women’s parts have you seen in movies lately? Or on the stage? As Shirley MacLaine said: “Television is the only medium that takes women seriously, that treats them as intelligent, functioning human beings.”
My first series was “Richard Diamond, Private Eye” with David Janssen. I played Sam, the answering-service girl. All you ever saw of me was a pair of legs. And you heard my voice — low and husky and sexy. Talk about your sex object! We’ve come a long way from that. I have. All women have. I like to think Mary Richards was in some way responsible.