Mary Tyler Moore made her name as Dick Van Dyke's wife on the eponymous show; she was a cute, unassuming housewife that audiences loved. But when screenwriters James Brooks and Allan Burnes dreamed up an edgy show about a divorced woman with a career, network executives replied: "Americans won't watch television about New York City, divorcées, men with mustaches, or Jews." But Moore and her team were committed, and when the show finally aired, in spite of tepid reviews, fans loved it. Jennifer Keishin Armstrong introduces listeners to the show's creators; its principled producer, Grant Tinker; and the writers and actors who attracted millions of viewers. As the first situation comedy to employ numerous women as writers and producers, The Mary Tyler Moore Show became a guiding light for women in the 1970s. The show also became the centerpiece of one of greatest evenings of comedy in television history, and Jennifer Keishin Armstrong describes how the television industry evolved during these golden years.
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To hear this book tell it, the Mary Tyler Moore show just seemed to happen, and this is the story of people who were kinda sorta around when it did.
The author spends an enormous amount of time on stories that never pay off, and she seems to have no interest in how episodes were actually made. She follows one writer from her early days as a club entertainer to her eventual staff job on the show, and then to her travels in Europe, but we never get any insight on what that same writer's life was like on the MTMS staff. What did she do every day? How did she and the staff break stories, what kind of leeway did she have to alter characters? Did she have a unique take on the characters that made her noteworthy a writer?
Early in the book we're told that the show's creators were hired to write a show for Mary Tyler Moore, and then, suddenly, they have a script. We never get any insight into how that script was created, or where the ideas came from. And when those writers decide to change the script to conform to network notes, well, then all of a sudden they have a changed script. We're never privy to the actual making of those changes.
This lack of detail is especially troubling when it comes to James Brooks. Brooks appears on virtually every page of the narrative, but we don't get any insight into his creative process. We get a sentence or two telling us that Brooks dominated the writers room, but no insight into how that room worked. (Was there even a writers room on this show? I don't know, because it's not in the book.) Brooks goes from an ambitious writer to a TV genius, but we're told it happens, and are never shown how it happened. How did writers pitch show ideas? How did Brooks respond to those pitches, how did he change them, what was his spin? Brooks is one of a handful of people who changed TV forever, and this book gives us no sense of what his day--to-day work was on the show. Why, by the book's end, do I know more about the writing habits of a (sort of creepy) Mary Tyler Moore super fan than I do about the guy who this book is largely about? (And how in the world does Brooks' later co-creation of The Simpsons rate one half of one sentence about Julie Kavner?)
As for the book's narration, it is, frankly, hilarious, though not intentionally. The narrator mispronounces so many famous names, it's like she's setting us up for a drinking game. Howard CAsell? Really? Gavin McCloud went on to play Captain Stubbing, as in something you do to your toe? Desi Arnaz's last name looks like it rhymes with "has", but it really rhymes with "fez" — someone should have told the narrator. And these are just off the top of my head. There are at least 5 or 6 more. Every time you hear one, do a shot. It'll make the book more enjoyable.
The book is interesting, especially for those of us who were ther. It is unfortunate that the reader detracts so much from the story. Her simpleton lilting voice (which unfortunately lilts in the wrong places) is bad enough, but her awkward attempt to voice characters is painful. If you are interested in this book, spare yourself and buy the written or e-book.