“and the wind cries mary richards…”

Just discovered Hulu – now I don’t bother DVRing The Daily Show and The Colbert Report in case I fall asleep before I catch them.  Not that Comedy Central doesn’t repeat them three times til the next day’s 11:00 pm rolls around anyway.

Last night I watched the first two episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show on Hulu.

I had forgotten what a crush I had on her.  She’s so 60’s adorable during the opening theme song montage – unsure wide mouth, straight little nose, softly flaring black eyelashes, dark hair in a flip.  Mary Richards was 30, Mary Tyler Moore was almost 34 when it premiered on September 19, 1970.

Wow, Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin might have seen it.  Well, not Jim, he was in Paris and Hulu wasn’t around then; and the same for Dmitri Shostakovich in Moscow.  Janis would die three weeks later.

Jimi Hendix had died the day before.

Texas Instruments had not even introduced the first pocket calculator yet.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show was part of CBS’s monolithic 70s Saturday night comedy line-up. Along with The Odd Couple,  The Bob Newhart Show,  The Carol Brunett  Show, and later The Love Boat, and Fantasy Island. At least as I remember.

Back then there was not such thing as VCRs or DVRs or Tivo.  (Although schools had video taping apparatuses, dishwasher-sized assemblies, by the mid-60s.  Channel 17, our local PBS affiliate – no, backtrack: PBS didn’t exist until two weeks after The Mary Tyler Moore Show premiered – broadcast educational classroom TV shows overnight so schools could tape them).

Anyway, all television was that 90s canard “destination television”.   The only chance you got to watch a show – ever, unless it was successful enough to go into reruns six years later – was to catch it when it was rebroadcast six months later during what was called “summer reruns”.  Broadcast at the same day and time.

And if you got a phone call during a show… there was no voicemail, no caller ID.  James Rockford’s famous answering machine – a shoe-box sized cassette machine wired up to his phone – in the opening credits of The Rockford Files was a jawdropper back then.  And your phone was tied to an outlet or affixed on the wall, and the receiver was on this Porky Pig-tail curly cord the could be stretched out to maybe eight feet long at best.  So if your phone wasn’t in the TV room, you were SOL.  And if you missed a call – that was it.  No voicemail, no caller ID, no callback.  And this was the only type of telephone there was.   And it was impossible to own a phone – you rented it.  From AT&T.  They had a storefront in the mall, with all their eight styles and colors of phones on display.

This sad state of affairs was Mary Richards’ world.  If she was expecting a call for a date, she sat by the phone.  We all had to, 40 years ago.  Now you feel naked, untethered, if you get into your car and pull away and realize you left your cellphone on the bathroom sink.

Watching last night, Mary Richards’ standing up for herself and arguing with Mr. Grant that she can do just as good a job as a man does, seemed simplistic and overbroad and silly.  Maybe it was just, even then, the simplicity and overbroadness and silliness of sitcom television.  But I remember teachers mentioning Mary Richards as a role model for girls, she was a touchstone of how the world was changing.  I think most of us didn’t know any woman like her.  Just a woman choosing to take care of herself, to live on her own, without suspicion of being “you know, like that…!” or twisting inside with rage at the raw deal life gave her in making her a spinster.

In 1997 TV Guide listed Mary Richards’ tossing her hat in the air mid-street in the opening credits as the second greatest “moment” in television history.  It all seems so eager and innocent now – her short skirt-high boot feminism tempered with that slightly confused pout, her dramatic but one-note refusal to give in to the pressure to marry because that was just what a woman did.

Of course, no matter what, 40 years from now Family Guy and BBC’s Skins will be just as quaint.  As will blogs…

By the way, TV Guide’s 1997 Number 1 greatest moment in television history?  President Kennedy’s assassination, of course.


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