What would the past four decades of television have been without the trailblazing “Mary Tyler Moore Show”?
There may not have been a “30 Rock” or a “Girls” or a “Parks and Recreation” or a “Murphy Brown.” There certainly would have been no “Hill Street Blues” or “St. Elsewhere.”
“The Mary Tyler Moore Show” centered on a single female local TV news producer played by Moore, who died Wednesday at the age of 80, laying the foundation for more era-defining television shows in which women were the driving force.
“Mary Tyler Moore’s humor, style and vulnerability have had a profound influence on me as a television creator and on every woman I know working in television to upend expectations of traditional femininity,” “Girls” creator-star Lena Dunham said in a statement released to media. “Her remarkable presence and ahead of her time ability to expose the condition of single working womanhood with humor and pathos will never be forgotten.”
When creating “30 Rock,” Tina Fey turned to DVDs of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” she told the New York Times in 2007. The NBC show about an unmarried woman working in television with a stern and slick yet lovable boss shared obvious parallels with Moore’s show.
“We talked about that show a lot as a template, obviously, of a great show, but also a show that is all about the relationships in the workplace, but not the making of television so much,” Fey told the newspaper.
Fey also felt the influence at a young age, watching “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” as a child. “There was a night of TV that was ‘Mary Tyler Moore’ and that was a sacred night for me,” she said in a 2015 PBS documentary. “That show was a big, big deal.”
The late 1980s and ’90s saw Candice Bergen starring on “Murphy Brown,” an ensemble comedy centered around a single female newscaster. Show creator Diane English had seen only eight episodes of the 1970s sitcom, but as critics reviewed “Murphy Brown,” Moore’s show was often invoked.
Perhaps “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” didn’t directly influence English, but its prominence within pop culture paved the way for audiences to receive an updated version of such a construct.
The dynamic between Moore’s character, Mary Richards, and her boss Lou Grant, played by Ed Asner, also served as a template for future television relationships. On the NBC sitcom “Parks and Recreation,” Amy Poehler’s character, Leslie Knope, has deep respect for but often clashes with her boss, Ron Swanson, played by Nick Offerman.
Poehler compared Leslie and Ron to Mary and Lou during a 2014 panel discussion. “Leslie and Ron were like opposites, and still are. But at first we were really showing the two sides of government work, and when you start a show … you have to kind of broad stroke it a bit – like, this is a show about these kinds of people, and Ron and Leslie were a good, kind of Mary-and-Lou-Grant kind of relationship.”
Its impact reached the NBC series “Friends,” particularly in its 2004 series finale, which show co-creator Marta Kauffman has said was influenced by Moore’s show. In a 2004 interview with the Baltimore Sun, Kauffman called the “Mary Tyler Moore” finale the “gold standard.”
Moore’s show was produced by MTM Enterprises, a production company started by Moore and her then-husband, Grant Tinker, who died in November. MTM went on to produce “St. Elsewhere” and “Hill Street Blues,” groundbreaking shows in their own right.
Moore’s show and her portrayal of a spunky producer even had a direct impact on the queen of daytime herself, Oprah Winfrey, who built an empire through television and went on to become the first female African-American billionaire.
In a 2015 PBS documentary, Winfrey said, “I think Mary Tyler Moore has probably had more influence on my career than any other single person or force.”