Prime-Time Feminism: Television, Media Culture, and the Women's Movement since 1970

By Bonnie J. Dow | Go to book overview

Chapter 1
1970s Lifestyle Feminism,
the Single Woman, and
The Mary Tyler Moore Show

If television scholars had established a canon of "great works" akin to that which exists (although not without challenge) in literature, The Mary Tyler Moore Show surely would be included in it. A sitcom focusing on the life of thirtyish, unmarried, working woman Mary Richards and her network of friends and co-workers at WJM-TV in Minneapolis, Mary Tyler Moore was described by reviewers and critics as an example of original programming both during and after its seven seasons on CBS ( 1970-77). The claim to originality was based, among other things, on production factors, such as its status as the first of a series of highly successful programs that would be created by its parent company, MTM Enterprises ( Feuer, Kerr, and Vahimagi, 1984; Gitlin, 1983), on its contribution to the situation comedy format as an exemplar of the move from domestic or home-based situations to situations based in the workplace ( Gitlin, 1983; Newcomb, 1974), and on its social sensitivity and timeliness as a program focused on the life of a career-oriented, single woman ( Feuer et al., 1984; Gitlin, 1983; Marc, 1984).

Mary Tyler Moore is generally acknowledged as the first popular and long-running television series clearly to feature the influence of feminism. Although the show's creators consistently claimed that Mary Tyler Moore was about character, not politics (an implied contrast to All in the Family), writer-producer James Brooks observed that "we sought to show someone from Mary Richards' background being in a world where women's rights were being talked about and it was having an impact" (quoted in Bathrick, 1984, pp. 103-104). Mary Tyler Moore was not the first working-woman sitcom. Yet it is generally acknowledged as the first to assert that work was not just a prelude to marriage, or a substitute for it, but could form the center of a satisfying life for a woman in the way that it presumably did for men. This was, perhaps, the most consistent

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