For millions of Americans in the turbulent 1970s, Mary Tyler Moore embodied an entire generation’s youthful vigor and upward mobility.
Though television audiences first fell in love with her as teenaged elf “Happy Hotpoint,” then as Dick Van Dyke’s impish showgirl-turned-housewife, her eponymous sitcom transformed Moore into a cultural phenomenon at a time when the country craved a bold departure from milquetoast “nuclear family” comedies.
Once the mold was cast, there was no going back: “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” captivated audiences by capturing a career woman on the rise in a television newsroom, a setting that would soon attract many more single, independent women like Mary Richards.
Mary Tyler Moore’s inspiration echoed throughout the TV news community this week, with heartfelt tributes from dozens of real-life television news icons, including Oprah Winfrey, who called the show “an important seed (for) the future of my career,” CBS News’ Norah O’Donnell and local KARE11 News anchor Jana Shortal, who praised Moore for taking “the lead in lady pantswearers on TV.”
Mary Richards inspired newswomen, working women and “everywoman” with television’s first realistic portrayal of a career-minded single woman making her way in the working world. According to the Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, only 13 percent of reporters were women, whereas today about half of reporters are women.
Along the way, national TV audiences caught a brief glimpse of Minneapolis life and the city’s growth throughout the ‘70s. Establishing shots featured a then-relatively puny skyline (sans the IDS Center for the first two seasons), a springtime walk around Lake of the Isles and (in later seasons) Mary sporting a Fran Tarkenton jersey while living in the new Cedar Square West high-rise (now Riverside Plaza).
Minneapolis in the 1970s wasn’t even “flyover country” as far as Hollywood was concerned; it simply didn’t exist. “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” (while shot primarily on an L.A. soundstage) gave audiences a reason to aspire to live in a place so up-and-coming, with its futuristic Crystal Court and lively downtown. In fact, it was a perfect place for Mary Richards to be an up-and-coming career woman.
Did the show itself help strengthen equality for women in the newsroom, or did it simply reflect society’s change in that direction? We can’t be certain, but we do know that “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” revealed new possibilities for television, as the “single-girl-in-the-city” sitcom is still a network staple. The show also revealed that Minneapolis – previously a Siberia-like punch line when used on TV – was a pretty hip place to shake your bell-bottom jeans.
Thank you, Mary – you made it after all, and you brought Minneapolis and TV news along for the ride.