Saturday, March 20, 2021

25 Facts About the 'Mary Tyler Moore' Finale

A 44th anniversary isn't exactly one you book a banquet hall for. But with Valerie Harper, Georgia Engel, Cloris Leachman and Allan Burns all dying in the past two years, it's never a bad time to celebrate "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" -- arguably the greatest sitcom in television history -- which went off the air 44 years ago tonight. As regular readers know, watching the famed CBS Saturday night lineup was an integral party of my boyhood, Mary Tyler Moore, Valerie Harper, Cloris Leachman, Suzanne Pleshette and Jean Stapleton were like the aunts I never had, babysitting me once a week while my parents were away at their bowling league (mandatory if you're from the Midwest), my older brothers were in the basement (probably listening to Simon & Garfunkel and Gordon Lightfoot albums) and my baby sister was asleep in her crib upstairs. Read TV historian David Davis's deep dive into the WJM gang's long way to Tipperary HERE.

Harvey's having a MTM moment, too.

Episode Spotlight — “The Last Show” πŸ“Ί 😭          

•• 25 Facts •• 

1. "The Last Show" was the 168th episode and series finale, written by Allan Burns, James L. Brooks, Ed. Weinberger, Stan Daniels, David Lloyd, and Bob Ellison, and directed by Jay Sandrich. 

2. Internationally, it was first aired in Canada on CBC Television, March 18, 1977 at 8pm. In the U.S., it debuted one day later on Saturday, March 19, on CBS, exactly 44 years ago. 

3. Cast — Mary Tyler Moore as Mary Richards / Ed Asner as Lou Grant / Gavin MacLeod as Murray Slaughter / Ted Knight as Ted Baxter / Georgia Engel as Georgette Baxter / Betty White as Sue Ann Nivens / Valerie Harper as Rhoda Gerard / Cloris Leachman as Phyllis Lindstrom / Vincent Gardenia as Frank Coleman / Robbie Rist as David Baxter / Hazel Frederick as Scowling Woman in opening credits 

4. Synopsis — The new station manager of WJM, Frank Coleman (Vincent Gardenia), is firing people left and right, and wants to do something about the Six O'Clock News' low ratings. Surprisingly, he decides that the fault lies behind the scenes and not in front of the camera. Lou, Mary, Murray, and Sue Ann are unceremoniously fired, while Ted Baxter is retained. 

5. The original broadcast included a curtain call behind the closing credits, during which Mary introduced her co-stars to the studio audience as "the best cast ever." This was omitted from the final CBS repeat (on September 3, 1977) and syndicated airings, but is available on the season 7 DVD release. 

6. This is the only episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show in which all eight of the regular series characters (Mary, Lou, Ted, Murray, Rhoda, Phyllis, Georgette, and Sue Ann) appear, and the curtain call is the only time the eight actors are all seen together at the same time. 

7. The scene where the news staff embraced and then huddled to the tissues was not in the script. The cast instinctively crabbed their way over to Mary’s desk because they didn’t want to let go of each other. 

8. When Mary did the famous "lights off before leaving" scene, the lighting director was crying so hard that he missed his light cue, and the scene had to be reshot. Mary had no problem replicating the same emotions from the previous take. 

9. Mary also said that the studio lights took forever to come back on. 

10. While rehearsing the final scene, the cast read their lines flatly with no inflection so they could save their genuine emotions for the actual filming. 

11. Rhoda and Phyllis were not in the original script for this episode. Valerie Harper suggested they be included and went to Jim Brooks and Allan Burns asking for a scene to be written, some of which was improvised by Valerie. 

12. The audience for this episode was made up entirely of friends and family of the cast and crew, including Mary’s parents, Marjorie and George Tyler Moore, who also attended all 167 previous episodes. 

13. Robbie Rist revealed that when he looked out at the audience during the last scene, every single crew member and the entire audience was crying. “I remember thinking what a powerful moment it was. Unforgettable and overwhelming.” 

14. Mary later revealed that she had an ache in her throat that lasted for three days from trying to hold back her sobs during filming. 

15. The writers toyed with the idea of having the series end with Mary and Lou becoming romantically involved. This idea was quickly shot down in the previous episode when the two decided they are much better off as friends than lovers. Ed Asner admitted that this disappointed him. 

16. Vincent Gardenia said that he received hate mail after the episode aired and was confronted for years by angry fans who would say, “How dare you fire Mary!” 

17. After both TMTMS and Phyllis left the air in 1977, Cloris Leachman was going to make a guest appearance on an episode of Rhoda called “Your Old Friend Phyllis,” which was never filmed due to Rhoda’s abrupt cancellation midway through its fifth season. 

18. Each cast member was sought after for other projects following the end of TMTMS — 

• Ed Asner was spun off in the hourlong drama, Lou Grant, which was originally called The Ed Asner Show

• Mary filmed the dramatic telefilm, First You Cry, and starred in a musical variety special spoofing the ‘70s, and then planned a new weekly variety series for the fall of 1978.

• Betty White and Georgia Engel starred in The Betty White Show, playing new characters, Joyce and Mitzi, best friends and housemates. The show flopped and was pulled after 13 episodes. 

• Gavin MacLeod was cast as Capt. Merrill Stubing on The Love Boat. His character shared the same initials as Murray Slaughter. The show was an instant ratings hit and ran for ten seasons. 

• Ted Knight starred in his own self-titled sitcom as owner of an escort service. It was quickly cancelled, but he would find greater success with ABC’s Too Close For Comfort (1981-83), which was later spun off in first-run syndication (1984-87) and eventually retitled as The Ted Knight Show for what would turn out to be its last season upon Knight's death.

19. Reception — 

πŸ“Ί When the creative team of the sitcom Friends were about to write their series finale, they watched several other sitcom finales. Co-creator Marta Kauffman said that "The Last Show" was the "gold standard" and that it influenced the finale of Friends

πŸ“Ί In 2011, the finale was ranked #3 on the TV Guide Network special TV's Most Unforgettable Finales. The #1 spot was occupied by Newhart’s surprise ending in which Bob wakes up in bed with Emily Hartley (Suzanne Pleshette). 

πŸ“Ί  The final episode was #23 of the most watched series finales of all time, with 21.2 million viewers. 

20. Awards — 

πŸ† The episode won an Emmy award for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series. In Allan Burns' acceptance speech, he stated, "We kept putting off writing that last show; we frankly didn't want to do it. I think it said what we wanted it to say. It was poignant, and I believe The Mary Tyler Moore Show was, in the long run, important for many women." 

21. Reboots, Reunions & Retrospectives — 

πŸ“Ί The cast reunited for a 90-minute CBS clip special in February 1991. 🎞 In 1998, Mary planned on reviving the characters of Mary and Rhoda in a weekly series, but ABC reconsidered after initially committing to 13 episodes, opting to produce the project as a TV-movie instead. Ratings were huge, but reviews were mostly unfavorable. 

πŸ“Ί In 2002, another reunion special was produced, this time with Mary interviewing each cast member individually and showing their favorite clips. And in 2008, the full surviving cast reunited on an episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show." (Oprah may be the only person I know as obsessed with MTM as I am!)

22. Mary Tyler Moore, Valerie Harper and Cloris Leachman guest-starred on Betty White's TV Land hit, Hot in Cleveland, which co-starred Georgia Engel as her friend Mamie Sue. The episode was called "Love Is All Around" — about the reunion of a ladies' bowling team who'd had a long-ago falling out — and it aired in 2013. 

23. Quotable Quotes — 

πŸ’¬ Lou Grant: “I treasure you people.” 

πŸ’¬Mary Richards: “I just wanted you to know that sometimes I get concerned about being a career woman. I get to thinking my job is too important to me. And I tell myself that the people I work with are just the people I work with, and not my family. But last night, I thought, 'what is a family, anyway?' They're just people who make you feel... less alone... and really loved. And that's what you've done for me. Thank you for being my family.” 

24. Home Media — πŸ“Ό This episode was released on VHS, Laserdisc, VideoDisc, and DVD.

25. IMDb User Reviews — 

• Hitchcoc | March 2017: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Mary's Gone....But Never Forgotten... When Mary Tyler Moore passed away a few weeks ago, I decided to watch all 168 episodes. I was a little concerned. Was it really as funny as I remembered it as a young adult. While there were a handful of episodes that were not brilliant, I think there was a consistency to this series that may have never been matched. The cast was brilliant. We got to know them intimately. Even though we could predict their behavior, each script was fresh and downright funny. From Ed Asner to Ted Knight. From Gavin McLeod to Valerie Harper. From Cloris Leachman to Betty White. They revolved Like beautiful planets around a sun that was Mary Tyler Moore, one of the most brilliant comedians of our time. She was beautiful and sweet and never hogged the stage. This final episode paid homage to the world that they trod for seven wonderful years. The writers said goodbye in the best way possible, allowing them to hug and squeeze every last ounce out of their personas. Life is short and a show like this filled in spaces for the lonely and the shy and the everyman and everywoman. It will live forever. 

• UNOhwen | September 2012: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 'Being fired is like being violated...' 'Leave it to Murray to find a bright spot' -Sue Ann Nivens Oh, how I cried. We raced home to watch it (the original broadcast). I've been a Mary fan since it began (I can EASILY beat Rosie - or ANYONE for that crown!). With the end of Mary, a lot of us lost our 'best friends.' I can't tell you how much - about life - I learned from this show. It was never written down to the audience. It was a show that - gave women a strong voice, and, really was a show that many (Oprah?!?) used as a roll-model, for it's depiction of life. Nothing extreme. Nothing exaggerated. The acting was pitch-perfect. A huge part of the thanks goes to those behind the cameras: writers, camera, stage crew, and many, many more. I don't think there's been a show since that ever came close to capturing what this show did. This - the last episode of a seven year run - was a real tear-jerker, especially, on its initial run (I'll explain later). It was beautifully written. Not maudlin, but, very funny, and, yes - it also made what was happening - the leaving of OUR WJM crew - very heartfelt. The tears you see on the screen are real. They really did feel that way. And we did too. That initial last showing - the only time they broadcast it - the epilogue, where the entire cast came out for a final curtain call, was especially endearing. In my mind, Mary, she's OK. And, thanks for those seven years. ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️ 

πŸ’ R.I.P. — 

Ted Knight • Vincent Gardenia • Stan Daniels • Hazel Frederick • Mary Tyler Moore • Valerie Harper • Georgia Engel • Cloris Leachman • Allan Burns

P.S. David Davis shared on Facebook that Mary got to meet Hazel Frederick for the first time in Minneapolis at a 1997 book-signing. An ad was placed in the local paper that led them to tracking Hazel down at a retirement home. 

Upon meeting her, Mary asked, “Why were you looking at me so angrily?” Hazel replied, “I wasn’t angry, I was concerned—I thought you were going to hurt yourself!” She didn’t know it was Mary and didn’t see a camera; she just thought some crazy person was throwing her hat in the air in the middle of traffic. 

Mary introduced Hazel to the crowd as “my co-star,” and sat next to her at the book-signing autographing issues of that day’s newspaper, in which her picture appeared. Mary later revealed, “she signed more autographs than I was asked to sign!” 

Hazel died two years later at age 91.


Keith “in Lov the Cov” said...

Thanks for posting this collection. I too grew up at the same time and had fond memories of watching the show. Last March when it seemed everything was going crazy fast I turned to TMTMS for a little comfort. Thinking I would watch a few episodes then move on to something more recent - well thankfully that didn’t happen. I watched the entire series treating each episode as a favorite afternoon distraction and was rewarded each time.

Thank you Ken for all the great stuff you put on each and every day. It really has helped me get through this past year.

Jack said...

What a lovely tribute to a phenomenal show. I remember watching it from my grandmother's livingroom hide-a-bed. Grandma lived in Minneapolis,too, like Mary (though on the North side).In my 20s, my best friend rented a house on the same block as Mary's tv apartment in Kenwood. That house has been painted in Victorian appropriate colors, it's no longer white. I work near the building that was the exterior shot of Murray's apartment. On the way there, the train stops at Mary's high rise building, the one she moved to at the end of the series. Lots of MTM memories still in Minneapolis. They even put a bronze statue of Mary, throwing up her hat, on Nicollet Mall, where she was scowled at by cat eye glasses lady.

Randy Slovacek said...

I love the series as well. My hubby and I recently binge watched the entire series and loved it. My hubby had forgotten Mary changed apartments, and he never quite adjusted to it.