Mary Richards Wasn’t Alone…

Mary Richards Wasn’t Alone…

Actress Mary Tyler Moore passed away on January 25th at age 80. Moore was synonymous with two character roles that cemented her place into television history: Laura Petrie from “The Dick Van Dyke Show”, and the iconic fictional WJM-TV producer Mary Richards in “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” (MTMS), both were on CBS.

Moore’s role as Mary Richards has been lauded for opening doors for women during a very important era in American history. The role of women in the 1970’s was starting to evolve from housewife to living independently, taking on non-stereotypical careers, and having a larger role in society.

As important as she was, whether on television or in real life as a role model, Mary Richards wasn’t alone during the era of the 70’s as it relates to influential and groundbreaking TV female characters.

Ever heard of Alice Hyatt, Maude Findlay, or Julia Baker?

You should.

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Cloris Leachman, the late Mary Tyler Moore, and Valerie Harper.

Let’s start with the supporting cast on MTMS. Des Moines, Iowa’s own Cloris Leachman was Phyllis Lindstrom, Mary’s snobbish landlady, Valerie Harper played Rhoda Morgenstern, Mary’s best friend and neighbor, the amazing Betty White as the sharp-tongued man-hungry Sue Ann Nivins, and Georgia Engel as Georgette Franklin, the loyal girlfriend (and later wife) of dim-witted and vain weatherman Ted Baxter.

MTMS made Harper, Leachman, Engel, McLeod, Anser, and Ted Knight superstars. MTMS was one of the first television series with an ensemble cast that was as talented as they come, and was one  of the first series to create successful spin-offs series for Rhoda, Phyllis, and Lou Grant (character played by Ed Anser).

MTMS wasn’t the only show that featured a female as a star and living a life that was unconventional during that time.

“Early to rise, early to bed, and in between I’ve cook and cleaned and went out of my head, going through life with blinders on is tough to see, I had to get up, get out from under and look for me…” – lyric to “Alice”(version 1) sung by Linda Lavin

“Alice” was another significant series, in my mind, as it relates to the changing roles of women.

Linda Lavin played Alice Hyatt, a widowed mother who moves from New Jersey to Phoenix to start her life over again with her son while she pursues a singing career.

She takes a job as a waitress at Mel’s Diner, working for Mel (Vic Tayback), a grouchy bombastic owner and cook. She works alongside shy and awkward Vera (Beth Howland), and Polly Holliday as the sassy whip-smart Flo (of “Kiss my grits!” fame). Diane Ladd later joined the cast as Belle Dupree and Cecila Watson played Jolene Hunnicutt. Alice produced a spin-off for Holliday, titled (of course) “Flo”.

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How do you keep Mel in line?  Flo had the answer:  “Kiss my grits!”

“Alice” was important because she was “starting over” after a tragedy by moving away from home to pursue her dreams and a better life for her son Tommy and her. Along the way, Flo, Belle, and Alice helped Vera grow from an awkward and less-confident person to one who could stand up for herself during one of Mel’s put-downs and then falling in love and getting married to police officer Elliott. They met when Elliott gave Vera a ticket for jaywalking.

If Mary Tyler Moore was the gold standard, then “Maude” was not far behind. Bea Arthur played the “uncompromising, enterprising, anything but tranquilizer” Maude Findlay, an older woman who was never shy to speak her mind, much to the consternation and admiration of her fourth husband Walter (Bill Macy). “Maude”  was groundbreaking in several ways. The series tackled topics such as “women’s lib”, abortion, and the clash of cultures.

The abortion episode is worth watching (Part I and Part II) if you want to see how Maude and Walter handled Maude’s pregancy.

Maude” was spun off from “All in the Family” where Maude clashed with Archie Bunker and driving her conservative neighbors the Harmons (Conrad Bain and Rue McClanahan) crazy with her liberal viewpoint. Arthur and McClanahan would reunite nearly a decade later, with Betty White, to do “The Golden Girls”.

Her relationship with African-American housekeeper Florida Evans (Esther Rolle) was insightful in that she clumsily tries to show how liberal and open-minded she is when interacting with Florida, to which Florida usually gets the last laugh at Maude’s expense.

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As progressive as Maude Findlay was, Florida Evans suffered no fools and got the last laugh at the expense of Maude.

Florida ended up having a spin-off series of her own:  “Good Times”.

I could go on, but I’ll stop here. There are other shows below that, along with “MTMS”, “Alice”, and “Maude”, were shows, in my opinion, that showed women in starring roles and in turn becoming role models during the 70’s for women through television.

The Liver Birds: British series about two single women living on their own in Liverpool, England during the 70’s. Carla Lane and Myra Taylor, two Liverpool housewives created and wrote the series. (Sidenote: the alternative theme song is catchy.

 

“Julia”: Diahann Carroll stars as a widowed nurse Julia Baker. The series was one of the first to cast an African-American in a white-collar professional role.

 

“Laverne and Shirley”: We all know about these two. They were the American version of “The Liver Birds”. Schlemiel! Schlimazel!

“The Partridge Family”: Shirley Jones is persuaded by her five children to quit as a bank teller to form a band. Yes, we have the theme song.

Closing the Book on “Mad Men”

Closing the Book on “Mad Men”
Sterling Headshot
“Remember, when God closes a door, he opens a dress.” God bless you, Roger Sterling. (PopSugar)

Tonight, it ends.

The story of a guy named Don Draper and the life surrounding an advertising agency in New York’s 1960’s. But, this story doesn’t begin with a script written by Matthew Weiner. It actually began, innocently enough, with a group performing in Des Moines one night. Critically acclaimed group “RJD2” performed at Vaudeville Mews. Popular for the tune “1976” and “Ghostwriter”, little did anyone, or even the group, would know that that another tune “A Beautiful Mine” would be selected by Weiner to be the opening theme to “Mad Men.”

Yes, Des Moines, you had a small part of television history, besides being the home of January Jones (Betty Draper Francis).

We tend to easily toss the banter of “greatest show ever” at anything we just watched (“The Sopranos” and “MAS*H” for examples), but there is something about television series that pulls us in like a black hole. But, there is validity to what The Sopranos and Mad Men mean to today’s television. It was unique, it had interesting characters that resembled the people we’re around these days.  I dare you to tell me you didn’t run across an Uncle Junior, Paulie Walnuts, or a Roger Sterling in your daily lives? Or wait, we wished we would run across people like that…

Remember when Peggy Olson in Season 1?  My how time have changed for Peggy. (Frank Ockenfels / AMC)
Remember when Peggy Olson in Season 1? My how time have changed for Peggy. (Frank Ockenfels / AMC)

Anyway, I have always been fascinated in how we watch television: how we view it, how we expect it to end and the reaction to it when it ends in the way that we did not anticipated it.

Do Colonel Henry Blake and Rosalind Shays come to mind?

As I wrote back in 2010 about the ending of The Sopranos, the idea that we want a perfect ending to a show is only wishful thinking. Shows should challenge our thinking and attitudes on what we think our perceptions are and to get us to view it a different way.

Larry Gelbart nailed it when how he described on MAS*H killing off Henry Blake. The viewers were upset that the writers would create such a killjoy in adding in Blake’s death, but the writers’ had another angle for viewers to understand: MASH wasn’t just a sitcom…it was a sitcom/drama about the reality of war.

So, as AMC closes the book on “Mad Men” this evening, don’t be surprised if the ending you expect isn’t the one you want.

Mind you, Weiner did work on The Sopranos. Anything can happen…just don’t expect it to live up to your own unrealistic expectations.

A Late Night Rivalry Renewed

 

The Late Night Rivalry renews tonight at Conan debuts on TBS.

Tonight, Conan O’Brien makes his return to late night television as he debuts his new show on TBS.  And this time, he will not be asked to move around to accommodate Jay Leno.

There’s not much to add to this story, because it was covered earlier this year when Conan left NBC after the Peacock brass decided to move Leno back to late night after his prime time show crashed and burned.

Let’s look back at how Conan got to this point today and a more detailed look at how NBC screwed the pooch, courtesy of great writer Bill Carter for Vanity Fair.

Since he’s on cable now, Conan can bring back some of his late-night schticks like Triumph, among a few edgy things that has endeared him to a nation of loyal followers.

 

Will Triumph the Insult Comic Dog make his return tonight?

 

The lost art of television themes

"Lost" and "24" had their endings. Read about "L&O" ending, courtesy of the NY Times.

I have an eccentric passion that I enjoy listening to and with the help of YouTube, I can watch. I’m a big fan of television show themes.  Not the short 5 second opening that shows the title and fades out to a commercial.  There are iconic themes that link us to the shows that has kept us entertained through the years.  “Law and Order” ended it’s long 20-year run Monday night, but that popular theme by Mike Post will remain ingrained in our minds.

Ever wonder what the full version sounds like?

With the inspiration from Andrew Clark (aka The Brand Chef) with his “Groove of the Day” and the website Fang Bites who is currently listing the best sports themes, by sport, I thought it would be a good idea to put together a list of my favorite t.v. show themes from across the spectrum.  Today, I have a few from England I want to share.

“Coronation Street” is a prime-time soap opera on ITV.  “Corrie” for short is one of the longest running series in world television history that will mark it’s 50th anniversary on television this winter.  The instrumental is very smooth and slow, like a warm summer day, though the show is depicted in a tough, worn down neighborhood in London.

“Danger Man” is considered to be one of the best television spy shows made.  In America, it was called “Secret Agent” with the wildly popular U.S. theme (and song) done by Johnny Rivers.  This is the original theme version by Edward Astley titled “Highwire.”

Here is the American version:

“The Prisoner”, the series I referenced to on Monday about “Lost”, stars Patrick McGoohan, who also starred in “Danger Man.”  McGoohan played an agent who decides to resign, only to be sent to an undisclosed island, where he poked and prodded to give the “real” reason he’s quitting.

The next one is the theme from “The Sweeney” starring John Thaw, who later became universally known as Inspector Morse on PBS series “Mystery.” Thaw and Dennis Waterman played two cops in a special unit charged in tackling armed robbery and violent crimes.

The final one for now is the beautiful moving theme from the Inspector Morse series.

Part 2 of “Ideas for a 96-team tournament to be successful”

On Tuesday, we started exploring ideas that the NCAA can make their men’s basketball tournament successful once they expand the field from 64 to 96 teams.  Today, we’ll look at the teams, television coverage, and the tournament locations.

The decision to expand the field will most likely come in July, with the proposal to go in effect starting with the 2011 tournament.  In part one, the tournament committee make-up and the schedules were discussed and I gave my ideas on those two factors.

Teams

Teams need to finish .500 or better in the league if they want to get in the Big Dance.

The expansion of the tournament may be a sign that the non-major conferences like the Missouri Valley, the Southern, and the Big West conference will have more teams in the field.  But there is a concern that mediocre-to-poor  teams from power leagues like the Big Ten, Pac-10, ACC, and Big East will get in, solely on the basis of the reputation of their respective leagues.

Idea:  a team that has less than a .500 record in conference play in any league, will not be considered for an at-large bid, unless they win their conference tournament.  That may include leagues in which the conference champion has a less than a .500 record and no league tournament.

Example:  West Eastern State is the regular-season conference champions with an 8-10 record.  If their league has no conference tournament, they should not get an at-large bid.  If a conference tournament is held and they win it, they will receive the automatic bid.  This is an attempt to get the best teams with good records in the tournament. If a conference doesn’t have a team with a .500 or above record, they probably don’t deserve to have a team representing them in the tournament.

Television

The NCAA, upon approval of the expansion, will likely opt out of its television contract with CBS, ending a 28-year relationship with the network when CBS acquired the rights to broadcast the tournament in 1982.  ESPN will get the first crack to bid on acquiring the rights.  Normally, I wouldn’t have a problem with that.  However in this day and age, there are many viewers who, for some reason, still do not have basic cable to watch ESPN.

"It looks I'll have to use my 'Hello Friends' line for the Masters starting in 2011. Damn."

Yes, they still resort to watching terrestrial television.

With that said, efforts have been made in the past to provide the extra coverage of games for fans who want to follow their teams.   The March Madness on Demand website the NCAA provides has been one of the most successful ventures to be created to cater to those who are unable to watch the game on television.

I don’t have a suggestion for television because if ESPN gets it, it can handle the workload, which is something that CBS could do, but may not have the expansive resources that ESPN has.  Though I have one wish:  CBS to do the coverage from the Sweet Sixteen to the National Championship game.  Then again, it’s me.

Locales

With the creation of the pod system in 2002, the efforts to limit the early-round travel has been a moderate success.  However, the hangup I have is that the NCAA tends to re-use the same venues over and over.  This is a prime opportunity for cities like Des Moines (Wells Fargo Arena) to be considered to host the 1st 2 rounds , or the 3rd and 4th rounds of the expanded tournament.  There can be so many times Spokane, Birmingham, New Orleans, Indianapolis, and Boise State can continue hosting games. The NCAA needs to break out this comfort level and move the sites around to give cities like Des Moines and Omaha a chance to prove that they can be great hosts during the tournament.

Des Moines' Wells Fargo Arena could finally get that coveted 1st & 2nd, or a 3rd & 4th round games.

Idea:  stop re-using the same tired old venues and move the tournament sites around, as the tournament was designed to do.  Also consider doing what the women’s tournament has done for some time now:  have the higher seed host the 1st two rounds on campus.   Keep in mind, the state of  South Carolina has been excluded from hosting, due to that state’s refusal to take down the Confederate flag.

Those are my biggest ideas and suggestions at this point with respects to March Madness.  Things could change between now and July when the NCAA makes the final decision.

I invite you to read these suggestions from today and from Tuesday, and tell me what you do you think?  Did I go far enough or is there a better plan that you have?