Jennifer Keishin Armstrong
Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted
And all the Brilliant Minds Who Made The Mary Tyler Moore Show a Classic
Simon and Schuster 2013
Forty years after its debut, The Mary Tyler Moore Show remains one of the most beloved and successful television sitcoms of all time. But 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 (Simon and Schuster, 2013) isn’t a simple episode recap. Rather, it’s a deep excavation of the show’s history from the perspective of the cast, the producers, a fan, and- perhaps most fascinating- the writers.
You might ask, How is this biography? It is because, ultimately, Armstrong is writing about lives- the lives of the people involved in the show, the lives from which they pulled their material, and how their lives together, often haphazardly, to produce extraordinary TV.
The Mary Tyler Moore Show depicted a woman’s work life, so it’s not too surprising that Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted does the same. However, the workplace that emerges is a revelation: with men recognizing the value of women’s stories and actively seeking women for the writing staff; with women writers mining their own lives for material and producing scripts that incorporate the everyday experiences of women, which were- at that time- seldom represented on TV.
We remember The Mary Tyler Moore Show because it was well-crafted and funny. But, as Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted reminds us, the show came about in an environment that promoted equality and where the gifts of women were encouraged. Such environments are, sadly, still rare.