1970: Mary Tyler Moore Brings Empowered Women To Prime Time

By | September 18, 2017

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Cloris Leachman (left), Mary Tyler Moore (centre), Valerie Harper pose, sitting on stools, wearing Seveties fashions, in a publicity portrait issued for the US television series, 'The Mary Tyler Moore Show', USA, circa 1974. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Ge

What sitcom did the most for women in the turbulent '60s and '70s? The Mary Tyler Moore Show was a feminist showcase that never announced itself as such. For TV's first two decades, women had largely been wives or girlfriends -- often subordinate to male leads, or simply part of the scenery. And for all Lucille Ball's comedic brilliance, her character on I Love Lucy wasn't empowering -- she was often creating messes that her husband had to clean up. The Mary Tyler Moore Show featured a single woman forging ahead in the workplace, whose friends were a working divorcee and a feminist wife with an invisible husband.

Premiering in 1970 and running for seven seasons, The Mary Tyler Moore Show was also, importantly, a show about grownups. It happened in grownup and professional spaces, particularly a single woman's apartment and the offices of a TV station. Mary Richards wasn't wearing an apron or putting a pie on the windowsill, nor was she gossiping all day with bored, mischievous housewives. 

An Evolving Role For Women On TV

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Valerie Harper (Rhoda Morgenstern) and Mary Tyler Moore (Mary Richards) in a publicity shot from 1971. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

The Mary Tyler Moore Show picked up, thematically, where another successful show had left off. The main character of That Girl, Ann Marie (played by Marlo Thomas), was also a career-minded young woman who wasn't married and enjoying herself, although she had a boyfriend for the entire run of the show who later became her fiance. Mary Richards actually broke up with her fiancé in the show's antecedent action -- then drove to Minneapolis in her Ford Mustang -- and wasn't actively husband-hunting.