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

By Bonnie J. Dow | Go to book overview

dearly held beliefs about man's world and woman's place in it. Mary's life was an alternative to domesticity but not a reprisal of it, especially given her performance of womanly functions in the workplace. The issues that came to plague feminism's public image in later years--the "man shortage," woman's biological clock, conflicts between responsibilities at home and in the workplace, the New Right's profamily line, and battles over reproductive freedom--were not yet in the forefront of public consciousness. The first clear indications of a what would become a sustained anti-feminist backlash emerged at the International Women's Year Conference in Houston held in 1977, the year Mary Tyler Moore left prime-time ( Ryan, 1992, p. 75).

In the meantime, however, other feminist-inspired--and Mary Tyler Moore-inspired--sitcoms had hit the airwaves. Rhoda ( 1974-78) and Phyllis ( 1975-77) were direct offshoots, but they were joined by other shows that breached the timid limits Mary Tyler Moore had set. Maude ( 1972-78), for instance, introduced a married, loudmouthed, suburban feminist. The short-lived Fay ( 1975-76) and the long-running One Day at a Time ( 1975-84) each offered a divorced woman as a lead character, a move too controversial five years earlier. Between roughly 1975 and 1980, television screens were populated with a succession of single women intent on finding themselves and exploring liberation. These shows, discussed in the next chapter, were the legacy of Mary Tyler Moore.


Notes
1.
After a slow start, the show was consistently among the top twenty rated programs for six of the seven years it was broadcast ( Brooks and Marsh, 1985). Spinoffs from Mary Tyler Moore included Rhoda ( 1974-78), Phyllis ( 1975-77), and Lou Grant ( 1977-82). The last of these is noteworthy because of a shift in genres that was highly unusual for spin-offs. Lou Grant was an hour-long dramatic series that gained its premise from the life of a character originally developed in a sitcom.
2.
As I write this, Mary Tyler Moore is shown daily on Nick at Nite, a national cable channel that bills itself as offering "classic TV."
3.
For examples of journalistic evaluations of female representation that rely on Mary Tyler Moore as a standard by which to measure progress on television, see Theroux, 1987, Rebeck, 1989, and Waters and Huck, 1989. Mary Tyler Moore also is prominent in journalistic reviews of television history. The special issue of People magazine celebrating television's fiftieth anniversary named Mary Tyler Moore as one of television's top twenty-five stars, noting that Mary Tyler Moore "changed TV's portrayal of women" ( "Mary Tyler Moore," 1989, p. 35). In 1993, in TV Guide's fortieth anniversary issue focusing on the "all-time best TV," Mary Tyler Moore is named as one of the "best comic actresses" and is called "the role model for a generation of working women" ( "The Best Comic Actresses," 1993, p. 22). In Chapter 4, I specifically discuss the ways in which journalists frequently used comparisons with Mary Tyler Moore in their discussions of the "progress" represented by Murphy Brown.

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