The juicy, entertaining and informative behind-the-scenes story of a great American sitcom that left a lasting influence on popular TV.
In this delicious history of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, former Entertainment Weekly writer Armstrong (Why? Because We Still Like You: An Oral History of the Mickey Mouse Club, 2010) seems to have had the cooperation of just about everyone involved in the show’s making, and the results are riveting. Starting at the very beginning, she shows how this particular phenomenon was the result of a lot of elements coming together at the same time: a popular star, a creative team with a then-daring idea of a show about an independent woman, and, contrary to the fears of network bosses, a receptive viewership. Armstrong traces the evolution of the show, properly focusing on the creative team of James L. Brooks and Allan Burns, who knew exactly the character they wanted, what kind of comic tone they wanted to set, and were smart enough to hire great women writers who used their own lives and experiences to shape the world of Mary Richards and Rhoda Morganstern. Armstrong reveals how much of the show’s success had to do with unpredictable factors—e.g., a casting agent who happened to see Valerie Harper on stage and suddenly thought, “That’s our Rhoda." The author also gives great inside detail on all the major players in front of the camera, from the insecurities of actor Ted Knight, to the friction between Gavin MacLeod and Cloris Leachman, to a married and somewhat conservative star who wasn’t all that inclined to consider herself liberated.
For any fan of the show or TV history in general, this book is pure pleasure.