The Mary Tyler Moore Show Season 4 provides More Favorites
by Kristin Battestella
The Fourth 1973-74 Season of The Mary Tyler Moore Show is yet another award winning entry thanks new characters pushing the envelope as beloved friends depart the series. Risque plots, affairs, separations, and age gaps remain focused on the people we love in the first quarter of the season thanks to supporting turns and past guests returning to cause mayhem at home and in the newsroom.
Winkler (Happy Days)
is the odd man out at the little table when there aren't enough
chairs in one of my Mary
favorites “The Dinner Party.”
WJM's flirtatious Happy Homemaker host Sue Ann Nivens insists on
arranging everything for Mary's impromptu party after interviewing a
congresswoman at the station, but BFF Rhoda says she thought Mary
knew her parties always end in disasters and gruff boss Lou Grant
takes too much of the Veal Prince Orloff. Mary thought no one else
knew she's a terrible hostess and the sophisticated eating schedule
all goes awry, but it's wonderful. Likewise, the surprise party in
“Happy Birthday, Lou!” makes our boss as cranky as ever –
especially when he gets caught hugging and tickling his wife in the
newsroom. Lou hates surprises, leading to one at a time doorbell hi
jinks where everyone has their moment of hatred because Lou won't let
anybody get sentimental and affectionate. Landlord Phyllis Lindstrom
also gets her real estate license in “Cottage For Sale” and wants
to sell Lou's house for $50,000 – a tidy sum when he originally
paid $18,000! Lou, however, isn't quite pleased, packing but unable
to throw anything away and dropping hints to Mary about how miserable
he is. The Mary Tyler Moore
the progress versus sentiment triangle with unique role reversals as
Mary supports Lou's memories and Phyllis pushes the escrow. Work and
home collide again when Mary's idea to produce a Sunday afternoon
talk show in “The
Co-Producers” gets off to a bad start because it was actually
Rhoda's idea. The two decide to collaborate, but the station insists
anchorman Ted Baxter and Sue Ann Nivens host the program, leading to
pesky fashion insults, fake compliments, and who's name will be first
debates. No one likes anybody's ideas, and Mary is caught in the
middle between flattering her stars or laying down the law in another
ensemble episode that let's everyone do what they do best. “Best of
Enemies,” however, humorously tears the camaraderie when Rhoda lets
it slip that Mary lied about being a college graduate on her WJM
application. Rhoda doesn't think it's a big deal, Mary's shocked at
her insensitivity, and Lou's just glad Mary isn't the only person on
earth who always tells the truth. Though such a rift is slightly
contrived, The Mary Tyler
Moore Show utilizes
our ladies' diverging paths
for embarrassing apologies and friendly innocence. Lou says the
application didn't matter – Mary was right for the job because she
said “excuse me” when she bumped into a desk. Who is nice enough
to apologize to an inanimate object? Ted's shy girlfriend Georgette
represents the audience's fear over not having our besties together,
ultimately uniting them with adorable awkwardness about garbage.
The Mary Tyler Moore Show has addressed age relations previously and “Angels in the Snow” is slow to get rolling as Mary frolics but questions if twenty-five is too young to her thirty-three. Our ladies don't fit in with the changing, groovy times, and Mary dislikes the boys in the office telling her this is a youthful mistake. Despite a few great scenes, the twee mellow misses the mark today. “Two Wrongs Don't Make a Writer” also has similar writing classes done better earlier in the series. Mary waxes on writing a novel while Ted ad libs the news in verse. Lou can't kill him on the air because there are witnesses and the physical comedy is superb, but Ted's intrusion in the classroom embarrasses Mary when he steals her story. He's confused over the “write what you know” adage, and the individual moments work in small doses. If you catch this half hour as a one off on television, it's pretty priceless, but in a twenty-four episode season marathon, it's too derivative. This entry does however give us the title of Lou's long gestating war novel: Too Many Foxholes and Not Enough Love. Fortunately, “Better Late...That's a Pun...Than Never” leads to late night giggles and disastrous obituaries when Mary's bemusing send off to Minneapolis' 110 year old citizen is read on the air. Lou's insistence that the news must remain sacred is interesting to hear in this day of sarcastic fakery and social media, and Mary is suspended two weeks without pay for her innocent breach. Initially she accepts this rather than being fired, but she resents being treated like a child and quits over the suspension. It may seem like small potatoes to us today, but taking a stand is not easy – especially when Mary strikes out at subsequent interviews for being qualified but too attractive for the job. For any other program this would be a typical leaving but not really leaving entry, but The Mary Tyler Moore Show provides a delicious breakdown when Mary can't take it and wants to come back, but a new female associate producer has already taken her place. Lou also wants to shake things up with an on location feature in “I Was Single for WJM,” nixing Mary's sixties nostalgia idea in favor of a singles club that's the new rage. Although she'll play a different character in two episodes when Mary moves in Season Six, here guest Penny Marshall (Laverne & Shirley) is a shy girl at the bar amid all the cliché come ons and awkwardness. The camera crew scares the crowd, too – leaving our ensemble live in an empty bar with dead air to fill in an excellent season finale.
Mary Richards says age is not a big deal, but she likes her short hair, pantsuits, and being an over thirty professional. Mary is an associate producer – she's not going to do all Ted's little jobs anymore and wants more difficult, challenging duties. Though cautious, Mary's excited when her documentary gets great reviews. Her biggest secret, however, is getting home late and pretending not to see a note from Rhoda. She feels silly talking to plants but isn't surprised by obscene phone calls, for her father was a doctor and she's heard those terms. Head cheerleader Mary was at the top of the pyramid and wears Minnesota Vikings shirts, but she gets over the notion of firing someone when the Lothario sportscaster comes on to her in “Hi There, Sports Fans.” Mary asked Mr. Grant for more responsibility, but the firing before the hiring leaves Ted filling in and her working hard to find a replacement – only to be disappointed when all the new sportscaster has to do is read three scores. It's also nice to see The Mary Tyler Moore Show isn't always setting up Mary anymore. She's had proposals, but she's a career woman, end of story. When Mary does briefly date an anchor from the superior Channel 8 in “WJM Tries Harder,” she's jealous at their overwhelming newsroom and embarrassed by her own last in the ratings, laughable little station. She fears her idea to hire college stringers looking for hot tips will backfire if they get the wrong story, but Mary sticks to her guns and for once, WJM gets the scoop. She's tired of people making light of her problems as cute or little when she's miserable, so Mary's going to stand up for herself. Window dresser Rhoda Morgenstern believes Mary's life is a shampoo commercial, but she's looking like a sassy, confident professional herself when not apologizing to her fern or misting the plants in Mary's apartment. Rhoda complains it would take a minute and fifteen seconds to read her old love letters, and the thought almost makes her bored enough to call her mother. At the hockey games, she likes to sit by the penalty box so she can pick up players, and Newman/Redford movies are her favorite because it is two fantasies for the price of one. The Mary Tyler Moore Show uses Rhoda to go for broke in the romance department, for she makes her mother cry by saying the first man already won't be her husband, and the answer to THAT question is when she was 20, and no it didn't hurt at first. Of course, Valerie Harper will soon depart for her own spin off, and parents Nancy Walker and Harold Gould guest star in “Rhoda's Sister Gets Married” as a semi soft launch with a trip to New York for Rhoda's little sister's wedding. Although much of the Morgenstern family history will be retconned on Rhoda, Ida and Martin are offended by the thought of Mary staying in a hotel instead of with them – insisting she sleep on the couch while airing out all the family angst. Rhoda, however, mixes business with pleasure after meeting the grandson of the store owner in “Love Blooms at Hemples.” She's afraid to take a chance or scare him off too soon, and Mary tells her to stop inventing reasons to date beneath herself. At last Rhoda looks happy, classy, and sophisticated as the episode alternates between Mary's office success and Rhoda's romance – permanently defining their individual sitcom paths.
WJM boss Lou Grant blames Mary for telling him an idea was wonderful instead of rotten. He's glad when she has some producing success but annoyed it means he can't ask her to do dumb things like bring him a jelly doughnut or make the coffee. She's excited when he makes her an omelet for working on a Saturday – until she tastes his secret beer ingredient – but Lou's long lunches mean something's wrong in the Emmy winning “The Lou and Edie Story.” He wants to talk to Mary man to man but he can't because she can't call him Lou. He tries to act naturally about seeing a marriage counselor, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show uses the workplace camaraderie to built mature characterizations as Ed Asner puts on a humorous one man struggle. Lou has to get it off his chest, but he can't talk – a drinking middle aged authority grappling with trouble at home for the first time. He takes out his anger on everything from suitcases to fruit instead of saying what needs to be said. Lou doesn't understand Edie's need to know who she is without being someone's Mrs., asking her not to leave until he gets home so the house won't be empty. For a comedy The Mary Tyler Moore Show makes a surprisingly tender episode in an era where separations were not dealt with on television. In “Lou's First Date,” Priscilla Morill's (Newhart) Edie is attending an awards dinner with someone else, so Lou intends to impress her with a great date himself. Unfortunately, he's mistakenly set up with a grand, but old, old lady, and Ed Asner's physical comedy shines in superb looks and reactions as exasperated Lou is nervous, embarrassed, and finally able to respect his classy date. A bottle of beer and Oreo's is Lou's idea of a single man's breakfast in “Just Friends,” so Mary brings him cereal, wake up calls, and does his laundry. Lou intrudes until she agrees to spy on Edie, who misses Lou but doesn't want him to think a dinner invitation means they are getting back together. Of course, he acts like everything is how it was, unable to accept the titular concept as The Mary Tyler Moore Show once again uses frank wit to address the shocking notion of the friendly post-divorce. In “Lou's Second Date” Rhoda attends an awards dinner with Lou, and they actually have a good time because there is no pressure or awkwardness. Sue Ann is jealous, however, and the station loves to gossip. Rhoda and Lou resent the implications, but neither is going to cancel dinner or miss a good hockey game because others ruined it for them.
Ted Knight's cream soda drinking anchorman Ted Baxter brags when his weekend is “sin-sational” and wants to announce it on the air but objects to reporting live on the scene without his sport coat. He hates when everyone knows something before him and Ted's jealous when he isn't asked to narrate a documentary about chimps – and the chimp gets the last word on him. Ted turns to sportscasting to make himself a renaissance man and tries wearing ridiculous platform boots, but he thinks he can't be taken seriously because he's too good looking. He also thinks he can put a drop of black hair dye in gradually for seven days and no one will notice the difference. When the League of Women Voters wants Ted to run for city council in “We Want Baxter” Lou drinks and Murray gets ulcers, but Phyllis insists he is an honest, controllable candidate. Lou points out the conflict of interest, but Ted sincerely thinks he can do some good. He also lost a school election and wants to prove himself, and a few goofy campaign ideas make Ted seems witty – until he forgets to register so he can vote. Ted's more shocked when his dad visits in “Father's Day,” and pretends he has lost his voice to not speak to his father. The Mary Tyler Moore Show balances the serious abandonment questions with humor as Ted shows off his fake autographs from famous folks and tells his father about that infamous 5,000 watt Fresno start. Despite the tender changes in Ted, he still struggles to sign the check when his father asks for a loan. Ted has Monopoly in his dressing room because he works hard and plays hard, too. He hires Rhoda to design his awards campaign in “Ted Baxter Meets Walter Cronkite,” for bribing the judges last year didn't work. When Ted finally wins, he's so overcome by the recognition and approval it almost bamboozles the titular meeting of his hero. Georgette encourages Ted to mend things with his dad and supports all he does, but Georgia Engel's innocent girlfriend doesn't want him to get into politics or become successful if that means he has less time for her. She takes shorthand notes for his production meetings, adding adorable little asides when she disagrees. Unfortunately, Ted takes her for cheap drive thru dinners and offers a lame mouth to mouth explanation for his dalliance in “Almost a Nun's Story.” Her one woman retellings of Ted' shenanigans are endearing – Georgette is tired of crying over him and we agree she should live it up and have fun for herself. When unhappy Georgette sees men who don't compare to Ted, she decides to do something good and join a convent, leading to some great mistaken flirtations with an unconventional nun as Ted realizes he misses Georgette. Now she gets to lay down the law on their relationship.
The late Cloris Leachman's landlord Phyllis Lindstrom loves to point out people's nerve when they stick around after a humiliating experience. Phyllis strikes out and wonders if she lost her charm, but after failing at writing and sculpting, she knows she was born to sell real estate. She's also too much of a real woman and that threatens men, so she has her husband Lars trained to call home every fifteen minutes because their relationship is built on trust. Her naive denials about her marriage make for an Emmy winning scene stealing performance, but of course, the Season Four premiere “The Lars Affair” introduces Betty White (The Golden Girls) as The Happy Homemaker Sue Ann Nivens. In front of the camera she is all about getting the stains out, a sweet and helpful persona contrasting her behind the scenes maneater tendencies and passive aggressive corrections. Her crew hates her, too, even unplugging her oven to ruin her show. The unseen Lars, however, gives Sue Ann a ride home, and the all night body shop repair excuses and collars cleaner when he comes home evidence is all the newsroom gossip. Viewers don't see the scandal, of course – delectable performances carry the innuendo – but the final blows between the ladies come down to chocolate and a ruined souffle. The Mary Tyler Moore Show combines the at home and show within a show, threatening Sue Ann to keep the under the sheets away from her public image, and it's fascinating how when the series started, Mary couldn't be a divorcee and now we have wickedly humorous adultery. Murray Slaughter hates when he's in a Monday mood and humming Mary is just so chipper, but Gavin MacLeod always has delicious zingers for Ted. The anchor wants to talk man to man with his writer, but Murray says they are one short. Once again, he has little else to do but jab from his desk, and a few family mentions seem inconsistent, but Murray's fifteen year old daughter takes a summer job at the station in “I Gave at the Office.” Murray doesn't want to be one of those parents, but the covering for her does come between Murray, Mary, and Lou. It's a little reminiscent of previous incompetent hires running amok in the office, but Lou can't swear, Ted's playing matchmaker, and it's interesting to see how a small change effects the entire newsroom dynamic. If they ever carpooled, Murray says he, Lou, Mary, and Gordy would be in one car with Ted in another, and yes, weatherman Gordy is referred to often but only appears in one episode this season when he replaces Ted as an anchorman. Gordy sarcastically tells Ted he's more content with the weather, but after his troubles, Lou gives Gordy a raise so WJM won't lose him. Of course, this is John Amos' last appearance until a guest spot in Season Seven – after Gordy has gone on to be quite successful. Chuckles the Clown also makes a zany appearance when Jerry Van Dyke returns for “Son of “But Seriously, Folks”.” The writer has quit the station for freelance but isn't doing well and applies for a news writer position so he can strike up again with Mary. She feels guilty that he likes her more and their working together becomes increasingly difficult thanks to a terrible idea to film the news in a new behind the scenes casual format hysterically mixed with drunken disappointment and disastrous rejection.
The new Year Four credits for The Mary Tyler Moore Show are a buzz with elevators, city high rises, and working girl content when Mary's not washing her mustang and not enjoying the inflated price of beef. Such solo outdoor scenes and workplace shots reiterate how our series is growing up compared to the tacky colors and grandma looking doilies on The Happy Homemaker set. Mary's apartment is spruced up too with more plants, tables, chairs, and a new bookcase wall visually expanding the space – even if the location doesn't make a lot of sense when we see more use of the house stairwell. There's fondue, vintage popcorn makers, and nostalgic charm like removing your earring to talk on the rotary phone. Far out boutiques sell metallics and platform boots while bell bottoms, wide lapels, and wild plaid pants match the chunky bracelets and brooches as each character is firmly suited in his or her own swanky style. Newcomers step in to The Mary Tyler Moore Show without missing a beat as viewers say goodbye to beloved players, and Season Four continues the trail blazing, award winning success with laughter for all.