Friday, April 25, 2014

Book Review: Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted: And All the Brilliant Minds Who Made The Mary Tyler Moore Show a Classic


Whether you are a TV person or not, this book should be read. Devoured in a few hours is the way it will be read if you make the wise decision in life and pick up a copy of Jennifer Keishin Armstrong's Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted: And All the Brilliant Minds Who Made The Mary Tyler Moore Show a Classic.  It's one heck of a clunky title, but don't be fooled by titles. In this case you can judge a book by its cover. The cover art is based on the opening title sequence to the famed television show that premiered on September 19, 1970.  The show concluded its run on network television after seven seasons on CBS, so it has been a long time since we had the good fortune to be blessed with an original episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

If you love television, this book is a must read whether you were into MTM's glorious self-titled series or not. It's a near masterwork of defining the origins, art and craft of what it means to develop and sustain a long running television series.

I loved The Mary Tyler Moore Show. It literally impacted my life. I have spent my entire adult life working in media with all but three of those adult working years - working in some form of television. The first three were spent in radio and communications planning, but television was what I wanted, because Mary Richards worked in television. As silly as that may seem to some people, at the time she was my hero. Outside of my mother, no woman had more influence on my life than Mary Richards. Yes, I said that and I still mean it. I came of age in an era that gave me options. My mom told me I was independent at the age of eight, so I suspect my mother knew I was not going to live what would have been considered a "normal life" back in the golden age of smiley faces. By the way, I love the smiley face.

The book transports you back to another time and it digs down to uncover literally every aspect of the show. How did Sonny Curtis get hired to pen and sing the single greatest TV title theme "Love is All Around?" Who came up with the iconic hat throw moment at the tail of the end in the show title sequence? Who found the Queen Anne Victorian house to front as the home of Mary, Rhoda and Phyllis? Why is Ethel Winant considered a legend in television history? Well, she was the first female television executive and she was the casting czar behind MTM's show. Obviously, she knew what she was doing.

This series would hire a long list of women writers and Mary's influence on pop culture was so profoundly felt that TV Guide would place her on the cover three times in the first two years of the shows run. The amazing and gifted television executives, writers, actors and producers would produce one of the best programs in the history of the medium. We even get a glimpse of a fan that became tightly knit with the program and its cast of characters.  Today, no one would associate with a fan on this level, but this spirited group of people loved the analysis put forth by an "average viewer."

There is so much to say about this book and yet it is virtually impossible to write down every thought I had along the way of the reading moments, so as a reader you must pick up this book.

It is now nearly four decades since the show left network television, but my "J" still hangs on a wall in my home. It is right near the entry way. Mary loved her "M." In many ways that "M" defined Mary, but the truth is Mary defined the "M." She was a full life human. She was smart, gifted, generous and thoughtful. She had one of the best friendships (she and Rhoda were genuinely looking out for each other) in the long lineage of TVs history. She was surrounded by genuine affection in the workplace. She had tightly knit relationships with her immediate family members. Mary left the air without ever marrying. I wonder what became of Mary Richards. She would now be in her mid to late 70's. I suspect if I go out for a walk today I might see her walking with perfect posture and arms in perfect alignment. She would be walking alone, but she wouldn't be lonely. I know she would smile at me and I'd smile back sensing the world was all right. Of course, she would be perfectly groomed and coiffed. No pajama bottoms.

God bless my now aged television role model. You inspired my options. All those years ago when I walked into the interview (I still remember what I wore to the interview and I tried to be like Mary Richards) with another broadcast network I fretted I may not get the job and I needed that job. A few days later I received a call from the guy who hired me.  I am grateful for that moment and fortunately, all these years later I still know I have options.

Who can turn the world on with her smile? Who can take a nothing day and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile?

This is a wildly entertaining look at one of the finest programs in television history. It's got boatloads of pop culture history and it is superbly written. Television programs have back stories and those back stories involve the creative teams behind the shows. This fantastic read brings not only the actors to life, but we hear from Allan Burns, James L. Brooks, Treva Silverman and many more of the people who brought The Mary Tyler Moore Show to CBS every Saturday night for seven seasons.

Read the book and then go and watch a couple of episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.


Copyright Read On Read Now 2014