Love Is All Around

And Other Lessons We've Learned from The Mary Tyler Moore Show


By Paula Bernstein

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A fun and inspirational homage to The Mary Tyler Moore Show now 50 years after its debut — with “life lessons” on how Mary Richards serves as an icon and inspiration for generations of women to “make it after all.”

When the character of Mary Richards walked into the WJM News Room in the fall of 1970, one of the most beloved shows in television history was born. The Mary Tyler Moore Show would win 29 Emmys over its 7-year run, and would later be lauded as one of the most influential TV shows of all time. Not only that, but Mary Richards would become an icon and inspiration for future generations of women (for example, Oprah Winfrey, Andrea Mitchell, and Tina Fey have all credited Mary with inspiring their careers). Now entertainment writer Paula Bernstein writes this charming celebration of this groundbreaking show, offering not only fun trivia and history, but also the “lessons” we’ve gleaned, including:

  • Make the Most of a Small Space. Mary’s adorable nook in a Victorian home became TV’s most famous bachelorette pad — and, with Mary’s “M” on the wall, inspired thousands of women to adopt their own first initial as home décor.
  • Get Along with Everyone at Work. Lou Grant was grumpy, Ted Baxter a blowhard, and Murray an all-around nice guy. Mary worked with all her colleagues with grace and style. (And at the time, Mary’s position as Associate Producer at WJM was glass-shattering!).
  • You Can Have the Town — Take it!: How Mary’s famous “hat throw” was an inspiration to independent, working women everywhere.

And many more!




“You can have the town—why don’t you take it?”


In one of the most memorable TV openings of all time—set to Sonny Curtis’s infectious theme song, “Love Is All Around”—a fresh-faced Mary Tyler Moore, a.k.a. Mary Richards, is behind the wheel of a 1970 Ford Mustang driving toward Minneapolis and a fresh start. She’s off on a new adventure, and we’re right there rooting for her. Fifty years ago, Mary Richards set out to “make it on her own,” and television has never been the same.

Who can forget the iconic hat toss moment at the end of the opening credits? Our plucky heroine runs into the middle of a busy intersection in downtown Minneapolis, stops, spins around, and tosses her knitted black-and-turquoise beret—some call it a tam-o’-shanter—up in the air without a care in the world. A freeze-frame captures her beaming face. The beret is forever frozen in midair. When Mary tosses her hat up in the air, she’s throwing caution (or at least her hat) to the wind. She’s made it this far; she’s going all the way! She’s taking chances, taking control of her life. She’s graduating into the world as an independent woman, and her exuberance is infectious. As the seasons rolled by, the credits evolved, but Mary was always Mary. Her hopeful spirit and joie de vivre still serve as examples of how to get by in this crazy world without getting down.

With its smart writing and its flawed but lovable characters, The Mary Tyler Moore Show broke ground for its portrayal of a single career woman trying to “make it on her own.” It is an undeniable classic—but even classics don’t start out that way. Back in 1969, The Mary Tyler Moore Show was not much more than a name and a leading lady. Mary Tyler Moore, the comedic actress who had won an Emmy for playing the enchanting suburban housewife Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show just a few years earlier, had signed a deal with CBS to star in a sitcom. CBS had given Moore and her husband at the time, TV executive Grant Tinker, a thirteen-episode commitment, which meant there would be no pilot episode. This was jumping into the deep end of the pool before learning how to swim.

Even if you’re a star of Mary Tyler Moore’s caliber, that kind of opportunity only comes around once. Her attempts at stage and screen success had faltered, so she was hoping for another TV hit. This time it would be her name in the title rather than Dick Van Dyke’s. Moore and Tinker got to work right away, creating their own production company, MTM Enterprises, and hiring TV writers James L. Brooks and Allan Burns. Brooks was the creator of the groundbreaking TV series Room 222, about a racially diverse high school history class; Burns had written a number of episodes for the Emmy Award–winning show. They were both looking to work on another innovative series—something a little edgier than most of the plain vanilla fare on TV at the time. Wholesome, rural-skewing hits like CBS’s Gunsmoke and Mayberry R.F.D. were too predictable and homespun and seemed dated in the quickly changing world of the late ’60s. The writers wanted to create a show that would reflect the complicated world around them—and the changing roles for women in society. Brooks and Burns had a leading lady, a title, and a deal with CBS. Now they just needed to come up with a fresh concept.

It was Moore’s name in the title, but she didn’t want the show to rest entirely on her shoulders. It would be an ensemble piece, and her character wouldn’t be too much of a stretch from her real personality. She couldn’t be married on the new show, because that would remind people of Laura Petrie. Maybe, they thought, she could have a job, like an assistant to a newspaper gossip columnist. Nah, she’d work at a TV station. Either way, the writers decided that, like The Dick Van Dyke Show before it, The Mary Tyler Moore Show would be divided between two main spheres—home and work. In their initial concept, Mary Tyler Moore would play Mary Richards, a thirty-year-old woman from small-town Minnesota who moves to Minneapolis following a divorce to “make it on her own.” Brooks described The Dick Van Dyke Show as “people that you really liked, saying funny things frequently.” The Mary Tyler Moore Show would aspire to do the same.

The creators had decided early on to set the show somewhere outside of New York or Los Angeles or Chicago, the typical settings for TV shows at the time. The idea of Minnesota came up after the writers were talking about the Minnesota Vikings. Minneapolis would work. The city’s chilly weather would make for good plotlines—and would provide a handy excuse to film predominantly indoors (aside from some establishing exterior shots, the show was actually shot in front of a live studio audience in Hollywood, California). For Mary Richards, who came from small-town Minnesota, Minneapolis was the big city, which says a lot about how her character was envisioned. She was eager for adventure but wasn’t going to pack up her VW Bug and drive to San Francisco.

Rather than churn out a predictable sitcom featuring yet another dutiful housewife character, writers Brooks and Burns took a chance by making the central character of Mary Richards a single career woman in her thirties. That was a bold idea at the time, given that women were just beginning to enter the workforce and there had never been a prime-time TV series centered around a single career woman. (Julia, which aired from 1968 to 1971, featured Diahann Carroll as a nurse and single mother, but she was a widow.) This was before Murphy Brown, Ally McBeal, Sex and the City, Girls, 30 Rock, and all the shows featuring single career women who followed in Mary’s footsteps.

That was all fine and good, but as soon as CBS heard the word divorce, they freaked. Wouldn’t audiences assume Moore had divorced Dick Van Dyke? She and her former on-screen spouse had had such great chemistry that TV audiences sometimes assumed they were married in real life. Besides, the CBS executives said, their research department had shared a list of taboo subjects that audiences supposedly wouldn’t accept on TV, including divorce. Allan Burns later recalled: “We sat there in a room full of divorced New York Jews with mustaches and heard them say there are four things Americans don’t like: New Yorkers, divorced people, men with mustaches, and Jews. It was strongly hinted that if we insisted on having Mary divorced, the show would go on at one in the morning.”

So the show’s creators nixed the divorced story line and settled on creating a believable backstory for Mary that would explain why she was… gasp!… single at thirty. (But they did ignore the supposed taboo about Jewish people and people from New York; the character of Rhoda is a Jew from New York.) Nowadays, nobody would bat an eyelash about a single woman at thirty. But back then, they felt the audience would wonder why our lovely heroine still hadn’t tied the knot. The average age of marriage for a woman in the United States at the time was twenty, and the vast majority of adult women were married. Divorce was still considered a social stigma—and definitely not okay for America’s sweetheart. So instead of a divorce, the writers explained that Mary had been dumped by her boyfriend after she supported him during his medical internship and residency. (Did they live together… in sin? It was hinted at but not clear.) Moore said she found the premise “incredibly distasteful, but apparently, CBS thought that was preferable to being divorced.”


Be a Pioneer

Sometimes in order to take advantage of an opportunity, you’ve got to be a pioneer. The Mary Tyler Moore Show was groundbreaking in its depiction of a single career woman. It was groundbreaking in other ways too, pioneering what we’d now call gender diversity behind the scenes, with the highest percentage of female writers of any show at the time. In 1973, out of seventy-five freelance or staff writers for the show, twenty-five were women. For comparison, The Partridge Family, the show with the second-highest percentage of women writers, had only seven writers out of seventy-six. “It was unlike every other show I worked on,” said writer Susan Silver. “They made a conscious decision to hire female writers because they wanted the show to reflect real women’s experiences.” According to Silver, Brooks and Allan “were not only eager to hear my stories, but looking for female writers, which was mostly unheard of then. I pitched stories from my own life, things that all women had experienced, but were fresh to the men.”

But it wasn’t just a token effort. The show creators knew that in order for it to succeed, The Mary Tyler Moore Show needed to tackle the issues of the day from a fresh, female perspective. Throughout the show’s run, it dealt with the challenges of being a single career woman in a man’s world with insight and humor. Without being overtly political, the show also took on taboo topics for TV at the time, including homosexuality, sex, birth control, and divorce, as well as hot-button issues (that, sadly, haven’t changed much in the decades since) such as pay inequity. “We were never asked to be feminist writers or make political statements,” said Silver. “That was more Norman Lear, Maude, All in the Family kind of scripts. What we were trying for, and I believe we succeeded in, was showing independent single women, working and leading their lives and supporting each other.”


Take a Setback and Turn It into an Opportunity

September 19, 1970—the first episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, “Love Is All Around,” introduced viewers to thirty-year-old Mary Richards and the other main characters and set the sharp, sassy tone for the show. Mary’s old friend, the narcissistic but nonetheless charming Phyllis (Cloris Leachman), has found her an apartment. It seems too good to be true—and it is. Her pushy upstairs neighbor, Rhoda Morgenstern (Valerie Harper), who is eager to move out of what’s essentially an attic, has already laid claim to it. Luckily for Mary, Phyllis had the foresight (or nerve, depending on how you see it) to sign the lease in Mary’s name before Mary even had the chance to see it. Either way, our Mary has a new place to live! And two built-in friends.

That same day, Mary lucks out on the job-seeking front too. She initially applies for a secretarial job at local news station WJM-TV. Grizzled news producer Lou Grant (Ed Asner) tells her the job has been filled; however, there’s another one available for associate producer of the 6:00 p.m. news. Mary seizes the moment. Whatever the job is, she’s interested.

Mr. Grant asks her some questions that would definitely not fly nowadays. Though Mary’s a natural people pleaser, she sets some limits. She only answers the personal questions that she feels like answering. He’s mystified.

LOU GRANT: What religion are you?

MARY RICHARDS: Mr. Grant, I don’t quite know how to say this, but you’re not allowed to ask that when someone’s applying for a job. It’s against the law.

LOU: Wanna call a cop?


LOU: Good. Would you think I was violating your civil rights if I asked if you’re married?

MARY: Presbyterian.

LOU: Huh?

MARY: Well, I decided I’d answer your religion question.

Mr. Grant continues to grill her until Mary finally gets up to leave. She turns to tell Mr. Grant she’s had enough of his questions. “It does seem that you’ve been asking a lot of very personal questions that don’t have a thing to do with my qualifications for this job.”

In response, Mr. Grant tells Mary, “You know what? You’ve got spunk… I hate spunk.” Clearly, Mr. Grant doesn’t hate spunk too much because he hires her for the job of associate producer of the 6:00 p.m. news program. Mary can’t believe her good luck—until Mr. Grant announces that the associate producer job pays ten dollars less per week than the secretarial job. Still, it sounds a lot more exciting than taking transcription. She’s hired! Her new coworkers include snarky but sweet news writer Murray Slaughter (Gavin MacLeod) and Ted Baxter (Ted Knight), a pompous dolt of a news anchor. Both become part of her work family.

Back at her new home, Mary’s newfound independence is tested when her ex-boyfriend shows up in Minneapolis unannounced. When he arrives at her apartment with a bouquet of flowers, she’s impressed—until she learns he swiped them from a patient at the hospital where he works. Mary is underwhelmed. It’s not exactly clear what he wants from her—does he want to get back together, or is he in town for a booty call? Mary gives him a chance to say what he’s got to say (and maybe say he can’t live without her?). When he chokes on the words I love you, Mary realizes she’s better off without him. She says goodbye and shows him the door. As he’s leaving, he tells her, “Take care of yourself.”

“I think I just did,” she answers.

When she arrived in Minneapolis without an apartment or a job, Mary wasn’t sure what she’d find. She knew she could count on a couch at her nutty married friend Phyllis’s place, but how long could she manage there without going crazy? At thirty, she had invested several years of her life in a relationship that didn’t pan out. But rather than stay in small-town Minnesota with a bad boyfriend who doesn’t appreciate her, she sets off for the big city of Minneapolis! The takeaway? Be like Mary Richards. If things don’t go your way, take life in a new direction and be open to new opportunities. Sure, we can’t all pick up and start a new life at any age, but we can at least try to see things in a fresh way.

MTM Trivia: Ted Baxter’s character was one of the influences for the character Kent Brockman, the cocky anchorman on The Simpsons, who was developed by, among other people, James L. Brooks, the same Brooks who helped to create The Mary Tyler Moore Show.


Success Sometimes Takes Time (Don’t Give Up)

Five decades after it first aired, The Mary Tyler Moore Show is now considered a success. But as the production of the show itself illustrated, sometimes success takes time. When they performed the first episode of the show in front of a live studio audience, just days before the series premiere in 1970, the reaction was disappointing to say the least. The cast and crew later referred to the disastrous run-through as “Black Tuesday” because it seemed that everything that could go wrong did go wrong. They were experimenting with a new camera system that they hadn’t quite figured out yet. The sound system was also a work in progress. It was a smoggy, 102-degree day in Los Angeles, and the air-conditioning system wasn’t powerful enough to cool down the stage.

But most concerning, the audience didn’t seem to get any of the jokes. Some even left halfway through the performance. Those who stayed later said that they could barely hear any of the dialogue. And what they could hear, they didn’t like. They especially didn’t like “that awful woman yelling at Mary,” as they called Rhoda. They didn’t know what to make of this pushy New Yorker who wanted to “steal” Mary’s apartment. The writers had a problem: how to make the audience like Rhoda, who, to be fair, was the brassiest woman anybody had ever seen on a sitcom. She was blunt, snarky, and, worst of all, mean to Mary. Following “Black Tuesday,” Moore started to panic. What had she gotten herself involved in? Tinker called the writers and ordered them to “fix it.” But what could they do in only three days’ time?

Script supervisor Margaret Mullen had an ingenious idea: the episode starts with Phyllis, along with her twelve-year-old daughter, Bess (Lisa Gerritsen), showing Mary the apartment and complaining about “that dumb Rhoda,” who wants it for herself. Mullen suggested that Bess say something nice about Rhoda so that the audience will come to appreciate her too. The writers figured it was worth a try, so they added a line:

BESS: Aunt Rhoda’s really a lot of fun! Mom hates her.

By Friday, when it was time to tape the first episode for real, they had figured out the new camera system and the faulty sound system. All the writers had done since Tuesday’s disastrous run-through was tweak a couple of lines of dialogue, but that made all the difference. As Moore recalled later, “They figured out if a child liked Rhoda, then she wasn’t all mean. There was something in her that could be lovable. We did the very same show and it went through the roof!”


  • "A sweet valentine for super-fans of the much-missed Mary."
    -- Emily Nussbaum, author of I Like to Watch
  • "Bernstein's dazzling and insightful celebration of this pop cultural marvel is pure delight."
    -- Karen Karbo, author of The Gospel According to Coco Chanel
  • "An affectionate tribute and a genuinely informative cultural history -- and an all-around triumph."—-- Meghan Daum, author of The Problem With Everything: My Journey Through The New Culture Wars
  • "As entertaining as Chuckles the Clown's funeral. If you're a fan of the show, you'll know that's high praise."
    -- Michael Schneider, Variety
  • "The Mary Tyler Moore Show is a classic because it remains as relevant and delightful today as it was when it was brand new. This carefully researched and bouncily written book makes it very clear that there were real human truths below the entertainment and the laughs. Toss your hat high and enjoy!"
    -- Shawn Levy, author of Paul Newman: A Life
  • "A compulsively readable history of a classic TV show . . . Bernstein's book brilliantly breaks down how jokes and plotlines from the Me Decade still hold life lessons for those of us trying to survive in modern times."
    -- Josef Adalian, New York Magazine's Vulture

On Sale
Sep 1, 2020
Page Count
192 pages
Running Press

Paula Bernstein

About the Author

Paula Bernstein is a journalist who regularly contributes to Fortune Magazine, where she reports on the entertainment business. She has held positions at Indie Wire, Variety, and The Hollywood Reporter, where she reported on television business news, and her work has appeared in Fast Company, TV Guide, The New York Times, Adweek and many other publications. She is also the author of Love is All Around: And Other Lessons We've Learned from The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited. Visit her at 

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