Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

One of the five best sitcoms ever is nearly available.

A little over a decade ago, RTÉ began repeating The Mary Tyler Moore Show in the middle of the day. Visiting favourite TV series from one’s youth is always a tricky business. Dad’s Army still looks like a 24-carat classic; …

Wed, Jan 13, 2010, 22:13

   

A little over a decade ago, RTÉ began repeating The Mary Tyler Moore Show in the middle of the day. Visiting favourite TV series from one’s youth is always a tricky business. Dad’s Army still looks like a 24-carat classic; the same team’s It Ain’t Half Hot Mum is a genuine embarrassment. Columbo is untouchable; Mannix is unwatchable.

It was, thus, with some relief that we (then) thirtysomethings discovered how well The Mary Tyler Moore show held up. Much lauded in its home territories, the series, which ran from 1970 to 1977, has, on this side of the Atlantic, never set in as solidly as did, say, Bilko, Cheers or even Taxi. But a quick glance confirms what a superb piece of work it is. Now, after a long wait, the entire run is finally available to download  from the UK version of  iTunes. But, for some weird reason, it is still not available on the Irish version of the service (or on Region 2 DVD for that matter). What gives?

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As older readers may be aware, the show followed the day-to-day adventures of a TV news producer in (of all places) Minneapolis. At home, she gossiped with her mate Rhoda (Valerie Harper, later the star of a much less impressive spin-off) and cast her eyes skyward whenever Phyllis (Cloris Leachman), her mad landlady, swanned over the threshold. The real meat of the show was found, however, in the sections at Mary’s workplace. Everyone loves boozy, irascible  Lou Grant (Ed Asner, later the star of a rather brilliant spin-off). The superb Betty White was hilarious as lascivious homemaker Sue Anne Nivens and Georgia Engel touching as the shy, supernaturally mousy Georgette. Brilliant as all those performances were — and Tyler Moore herself is immaculate throughout — the funniest scenes still belong to the cretinous, fantastically pompous news anchor Ted Baxter. As played by Ted Knight, Baxter proved to be a hugely influential character. James L Brooks, the show’s creator, went on, following further hits such as Rhoda, Lou Grant and Taxi, to develop a little show called The Simpsons. What is Kent Brockman but a nastier version of Ted?

Come to think of it, what is Brooks’s Broadcast News but a movie adaptation of The Mary Tyler Moore Show? Murray Slaughter (Gavin McLeod), the show’s exasperated, underappreciated writer, becomes Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks). Mary becomes Jane Craig (Holly Hunter). Ted becomes the somewhat less pompous, but equally unqualified Tom Grunick (William Hurt).

It’s a good film, but it doesn’t quite have the resonance of the series. Aside from anything else, MTM had the best theme tune to any sitcom ever. Ever!

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