When America Tuned In For Rhoda’s Wedding

Rhoda's wedding. Source: (IMDb).

When The Mary Tyler Moore Show became popular, they started releasing spin-offs, with the first being Rhoda. Starring Valerie Harper as the title character, the show aired from September 9, 1974, until December 9, 1978.

Rhoda's Return To New York

The show starts with Rhoda Morgenstern’s return to New York, where she grew up, to visit with her Jewish family, who see her as unconventional. During this trip, which is only supposed to be a two-week vacation, she stays with her sister Brenda (Julie Kavner). Once there, she meets Joe Gerrard (David Groh). Joe is a handsome divorcé, with a 10-year-old son, Donny; the two are introduced when Brenda, Rhoda’s sister who babysits Donny, suggests the meeting. The relationship progresses quickly, and Joe asks Rhoda to remain in New York City, which she does, initially moving in with Brenda. By the sixth episode, Joe pops the question; however, this proposal only comes after some prompting on Rhoda’s part.

Rhoda's Marriage

By the eighth episode of the show, Rhoda and Joe were married in an hour-long episode, which broke television records. The show had already broken records with its premiere, where it became the first series to achieve a number-one Nielsen rating for the pilot (and it aired at the same time as Monday Night Football). The wedding episode was the highest-rated television episode of the 1970s until the record was broken by the miniseries Roots in 1977. It was also the second most-watched television episode of all time (the birth of Little Ricky on I Love Lucy in 1953 was the highest). 

Valerie Harper and David Groh. Source: (Wikipedia).

Viewers Actually Sent Them Wedding Gifts

Viewers were so enthusiastic about the episode, they held “wedding parties” across the country, and people sent wedding gifts to the fictional Joe and Rhoda Gerard. According to Vogue, people feigned illness to cancel dinner invitations just to watch the wedding. As Harper said, “The audience felt as if a family member were getting married.”

Characters From The Mary Tyler Moore Show Were There

Two days before the wedding episode, the characters on The Mary Tyler Moore Show frequently discuss the wedding and buy wedding gifts. At the end of the episode, Murray (Gavin McLeod) and Lou (Ed Asner) drive Mary to the airport, and then, on a lark, fly out to the wedding. Phyllis (Cloris Leachman), who intentionally wasn’t invited, also flies in for it. Another friend of Mary and Rhoda, Georgette (Georgia Engel), drives in from Minneapolis. There were only two major characters from The Mary Tyler Moore Show who didn’t attend the wedding: Ted Baxter (Ted Knight) and Sue Ann Nivens (Betty White).

There Was A Lot Of Buzz Around The Show

This was not the only buzz surrounding the episode, as Valerie Harper and Mary Tyler Moore appeared on the cover of Time magazine shortly before it. During ABC’s Monday Night Football, Howard Cosell added some commentary, telling his viewers “Let’s go over to Rhoda’s wedding quick. The chicken liver is getting rancid.” He also welcomed them back to the game once the episode was over. 

Valerie Harper, Julie Kavner, and Nancy Walker. Source: (Wikipedia).

The Episode Includes An Iconic Scene

During the episode, after Phyllis asks to participate in the wedding, she is given the responsibility of taking Rhoda from Brenda’s apartment to her parents in the Bronx, but Phyllis fails, and when Rhoda is unable to find a cab, she has to take the subway to her parents, dressed in her wedding dress and veil. Incidentally, one of the people standing on the subway platform was the creator of the show, James L. Brooks in an uncredited cameo. Meanwhile, Phyllis apologizes to everyone in attendance, but Georgette is the only one in the room to forgive her, suggesting that Phyllis leave before Rhoda arrives. The episode has special closing credits of Rhoda running down a Manhattan street in her wedding dress to an alternate version of the theme song, played to Mendelssohn’s Wedding March. Valerie Harper earned an Emmy for the episode, her fourth Emmy as Rhoda.

The Creators Made A Choice That Doomed The Show

The remainder of the first and second seasons focused on Rhoda’s married life with Joe, and the ratings for the first two seasons remained high. Unfortunately, in the first episode of the third season, Joe leaves Rhoda because they thought it would allow for character development. A few weeks later, the two see a marriage counselor and Joe tells Rhoda he never wanted to be married but gave in to her pressure. After this, the viewers stopped watching. The show’s ratings never completely recovered, and it was canceled in the midst of the fifth season, with four final shows not airing until syndication.