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.
Kick-Ass TV Heroines: Xena – Warrior Princess
What was not to love about Xena? As Lucy Lawless says: “Xena is a bad-ass, kick-ass, pre-Mycenaean girl.” Evildoers, clearly, must stand down, but not only bad guys (and girls) have Xena-phobia. Even heroes quake when she swings her broadsword.
Originally created as a syndicated complement to Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena pretty much kicked Herc to the curb. It was like when the Bionic Woman made us lose interest in the Six Million Dollar Man–only more so.
Unlike Lindsay Wagner’s early half-woman, half-machine, Xena wasn’t prone to frailty. Nor did she need robot parts. In fact, the Warrior Princess never lost. If she’s down, it’s not for long.
Plus, she was in touch with the dark side: This big-boned bruiser had definite moments of blood lust, as well as lust of some other varieties. Garbed in a leather miniskirt and armed with her trademark razor-edged, boomerang-action chakram, we watched Xena single-leggedly kick down entire platoons of Roman soldiers.
Sure, there were murmurings about Xena and her softer female sidekick, Gabrielle (actress Renée O’Connor). So what if they liked to conserve bathwater by doubling up? And what’s wrong with close friends frenching once in a while?
Then again, maybe it was true–and there’s anything wrong with that.
Actress: Lucy Lawless
Show: Xena: Warrior Princess
Classic TV Revisited: McMillan And Wife
Starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, McMillan and Wife was a super cute crime-solving saga from the 1970s made for the NBC’s Mystery Movie series.
Who were they?
Hubby was the debonair San Francisco police commissioner Stewart McMillan.
Sally was a foxy, rather scatterbrained dame with a knack for finding corpses.
Worked down the morgue did she?
Hardly. Sally’s finds were usually in some glitzy mansion which the couple were frequenting for a weekend cocktail party. She also had a habit of getting her life threatened or being kidnapped.
Who was in it?
Tragic Hollywood star Rock Hudson no less. He took on Stewart McMillan in his first TV role, after years as a matinee idol with movies such as Giant.
Fans of the lantern-jawed star were dismayed when he went public about having Aids. He had long kept his homosexuality secret. He carried on working in ’80s glam drama Dynasty, but make-up could not disguise the deterioration of this once-statuesque man. He died in 1985, aged 59.
What about Sally?
That role fell to raven-locked Susan Saint James. The Ali MacGraw lookalike was previously in shows such as Alias Smith And Jones and The Name of the Game.
A vital ingredient to McMillan And Wife was sharp-tongued housekeeper Mildred, played by Nancy Walker. Somebody needed to keep the place tidy while they gallivanted about solving crime.
Famous guest stars?
The couple’s conception?
Like Hart To Hart, the idea was borrowed from Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man books of the ’30s.
Gritty crime drama?
Hardly. These were cosy whodunnit cases, where the brutality of murder was never portrayed. The show was more about the interplay between McMillan and Sally.
Had viewers arrested?
Certainly in the US. It was the fifth highest-rated show in 1972 and 1973.
Fate of the golden couple?
Susan Saint James quit in 1976 over a contractual dispute. Nancy Walker also packed away her duster as housekeeper Mildred.
The dame’s exit was a fatal blow?
Certainly for the character of Sally – she was killed off in a plane crash. But Rock soldiered on with new assistant Sgt Steve DiMaggio (Richard Gilliland). The show became McMillan.
Audiences dwindled and the plug was pulled.
Cosy pillow talk, cocktail parties, Rock Hudson, pyjamas and numerous corpses.
Let’s go to bed. Turn the light out, darling.
Must you eat toast in bed, darling. Apologies, but I’ve got terrible flatulence. Separate bedrooms.
Not to be confused with
My Wife Next Door, Harold Macmillan, The Merry Wives Of Windsor and Mr And Mrs.
Classic TV Revisited: The Royal
The Royal was an ITV drama commission and was inspired by its sister programme Heartbeat.
The lowdown: This nostalgic family drama is set in the swinging 1960s and centres on the staff of a cottage hospital in Yorkshire. Newly qualified doctor David Cheriton (Julian Ovenden) is determined to make a difference to the world and arrives at St Aidan’s Royal Free Hospital in Elinsby full of big ideas. But he clashes with the hospital’s secretary TJ Middleditch (Ian Carmichael) who is determined to run things his way. Then there is the Matron (Wendy Craig) who rules her nurses with a rod of iron and tries in vain to stop them being distracted by the handsome arrival.
Memorable moments: Watch out for former Heartbeat favourite Bill Maynard who crosses dramas and continents as Claude Jeremiah Greengrass. Greengrass has returned from a Caribbean holiday with a mystery illness but that doesn’t stop him trying to earn a fast buck. It doesn’t take long before Claude attracts Matron’s ire.
Trivia: The Royal is a family affair for real life husband and wife Robert Daws (Ormerod) and Amy Robbins (Weatherill). No fewer than seven members of their clan have appeared in the series including their daughters and stepson.
Michelle Hardwick, who played receptionist Lizzie, says her favourite moment in the whole series didn’t come on screen but in the actors’ green room. She says: “I was sitting in there with Wendy Craig and Honor Blackman and we were having a lovely conversation. I sat back and thought ‘Wow, this is great, I can’t wait to tell my gran’.”
A modern day set version called The Royal Today aired 7 January – 14 March 2008.
First broadcast: 2003
Starred: Wendy Craig, Ian Carmichael, Michael Starke, Robert Daws and Julian Ovenden
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