by John Walters
She did turn the world on with her smile. From 1970-1977, Mary Tyler Moore did take many a nothing Saturday evening and suddenly made it all seem worthwhile. She died yesterday. She was 80.
You may not care, but when you grew up in Middletown, New Jersey, in the Seventies, here were your television options: Channel 2 (CBS), 4 (NBC), 7 (ABC), three local stations (5, 9 and 11) and PBS (13). That’s it. No streaming. No DVR. No “I’ll tape it and watch it later.” No binge-watching. An episode of one of your favorite shows aired and if you missed it, it would not reappear for months until re-runs.
That may seem prehistoric to some of you, but in the meantime your dad was telling you how good you had it because 1) TV was in color now (a decade earlier MTM had starred in The Dick Van Dyke Show, in black-and-white) and 2) they didn’t even have TV when he was a kid (at which point he’d launch into “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows.“).
Anyway, it’s not as if I had many other Saturday night options when I was eight years old, but millions of adult Americans did and still they stayed home to watch the CBS trifecta of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show and The Carol Burnett Show. No network ever had a stronger single night lineup, I promise you.
You could write paragraphs about what MTM meant to feminism (she wasn’t the FIRST TV character who represented that new demo; Marlo Thomas as That Girl comes to mind, but that sitcom was average at best), but I’ll stick to what matters most to me: her character, Mary Richards, was lovely (Oh, she was beautiful) and decent and funny and normal. She was your sister, your buddy and your crush. That’s what made her special.
She was also two people, in a way, whom I love very much. My mom, who is the same age and bears a close physical resemblance, was also working in those years at an office and possesses all the same positive character traits: optimistic, decent and honest almost to a fault, and someone everyone considers their best friend. Mary and Phyllis had a lot in common.
But my mom was married to that guy who did The Shadow voice. I have a cousin, Maryann, who though a good 15 or so years younger, was and still is a beautiful, independent, brunette career woman. My cousin WAS Mary Richards in the Seventies. It was impossible for this young boy, or most anyone in our family, to conjure one without thinking of the other.
So in a bizarre and completely illogical way, I admit, yesterday’s news was something I took very personally.
(The above clip is from a bar scene in which the four main characters have just returned from attending the wedding of Lou’s ex-wife. It’s hard to find a clip that in less time illuminates what makes the four characters so unique and yet also shows what a team they were)
Three more things: It can not be emphasized ardently enough. This was the strongest supporting cast in the history of sitcoms. That cast: Ed Asner as her gruff teddy bear of a boss, Lou Grant; Gavin MacLeod as her closest confidante at WJM, Murray Slaughter; Ted Knight at the hilarious buffoon of a news anchor, Ted Baxter; Betty White as Sue Ann Nivens; Valerie Harper as Rhoda; Cloris Leachman (an Oscar winner) as Phyllis. Every character was so well-defined, and none were caricatures, not even Ted.
The late Sixties was just full of sitcoms that were, in those troubled times, pure fantasy: Bewitched, Gilligan’s Island, Hogan’s Heroes, I Dream Of Jeannie, Mr. Ed, etc. Then along came this show in which real people tried to get along in the workplace. Without scratching my head too much, I believe this was the first office comedy (UPDATE: Obvious oversight: The Dick Van Dyke Show was an office comedy, and MTM was part of the cast, albeit the stay-at-home mom) . This was the original The Office. And here was a young lady not looking for a husband, who didn’t have a family, who wore pants (literal and figurative). She didn’t necessarily want or need a Prince Charming.
One last thing. People will mention the “Chuckles the Clown” episode as a favorite and it’s among the best (I prefer to think of my favorite moments from the series, which were the scenes with Mary and Mr. Grant in his office), but it’s not just about Mary cracking up at the funeral of a clown. It’s that she’d spent the entire episode up to that scene scolding her co-workers for making light of his untimely death. She’d been the mother hen. Then, at his funeral, as they are all somber and in the one moment that calls for solemnity, it is Mary who cannot contain her giddiness. And Mary Tyler Moore sold it so well.
Now she’s left us. A little song. A little dance. A little seltzer down your pants. Goodbye, Mary. Thank you.
2. You Were Looking Live
Brent Musburger, another staple of the mid-Seventies who just never left, announced his retirement yesterday. He was the host of the original NFL pregame show, The NFL Today, which made its debut in 1975 and was terrific (Oh, that Phyllis George) and there he was on Monday evening calling Kentucky at Tennessee.
I had many chances to speak with Brent over the years and spent an entire day with him in 2012 on a cold January Monday in Lawrence, Kansas. He’s one of my favorites. At the time Brent was 73 and I asked him what kept him so revved up about calling sporting events. He said, “The trick is to stay interested.” He wasn’t just talking hoops.
One of my favorite Brent quips came during the 2015 Las Vegas Bowl. He was calling the game between BYU and Utah with Jesse Palmer and after one quarter, shockingly, the Utes led 35-0. “I feel sorry for my Mormon friends,” Brent said. “They can’t drink!”
3. Bernhard &%*# Langer?!?
Again, I apologize for being more than a little obsessed about our 45th president, but you need to read this story from The New York Times about how he basically relies on the same sources as Bobby Moynihan’s “Second-Hand News Guy” from SNL to shape his policy.
This is my favorite excerpt, and remember, this is the 45th president of the United States, not your debauched uncle whose only true love is the New York Giants and whom you’re glad you only have to talk to on Thanksgiving:
Ahead of and behind Mr. Langer were voters who did not look as if they should be allowed to vote, Mr. Trump said, according to the staff members — but they were nonetheless permitted to cast provisional ballots. The president threw out the names of Latin American countries that the voters might have come from.
4. Trash Talk
It’s been at least four years since a prospective first-round NFL draft pick out of Notre Dame has been trashed by sports blogs (yeah, that one had some of it coming, I’d say about 80% of it), but earlier this week someone named Tony Pauline at Draft Analyst.com, who was down in Moblie, Ala., at the Senior Bowl, wrote this about quarterback DeShone Kizer:
Since the NFLPA game, I’ve been told scouts have cooled on Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer. The combination of poor progression and questionable film from 2016 as well as character questions has raised red flags.
I understand how the draft process works. I understand the currency of whispers and innuendo and even misinformation. But here’s the thing. Kizer has never been in any type of trouble. He’s never delivered a single insubordinate or selfish quote. And so then The Big Lead picks up on this quote because of CLICKS CLICKS CLICKS and their extent of reporting is to, according to the writer’s tweet, “ask around at Notre Dame” and report “First anyone has heard.”
So here’s the problem: If you now Google “DeShone Kizer,” this completely unsubstantiated tale about Kizer’s character is the first thing that pops up. As opposed to this story from The New York Times (where “asking around” is not sufficient reporting; finding out is) talking about how Kizer drove 270 miles to Columbus to be by his girlfriend’s side for a cancer procedure (there are actual photos: this is not Lennay Kekua II: Dead Girlfriend Boogaloo), then drove back to South Bend the following day to participate in the Blue-Gold game.
I don’t know if Kizer is a saint or a sinner. I do know people who’ve covered the Irish for 10-plus and 20-plus years who’ve never said anything but positive things about him. The same way people at Clemson laud Deshaun Watson, and deservedly so.
Here’s the thing, and we all know where I went to school: When someone writes that they hear Jason McIntyre may have a predilection for wearing sassy pink underpants, and then someone else with 100,000 Twitter followers tweets, “I’ve heard the rumors about Jason McIntyre having a predilection for wearing sassy pink underpants, but it’s the first anyone at Fox has heard,” and then when I Google Jason McIntyre and the first story is that there’s probably no truth to the rumors that he fancies sassy pink underpants, but that maybe someone planted it and who knows why, well, who cares any more whether or not it’s true?
You’ve got the image in your head and even if Jason comes out to dispute it, the story is, “Jason claims he does not fancy sassy pink underpants.” This is why you report things, if integrity matters, as opposed to just putting a big fat worm on your click bait hook (and that goes for Mr. Pauline as well). “Character issues” is such a vague term, which allows a writer to use it without being sued because unlike my “sassy pink underpants” example, there’s nothing here that can be proven or disproven. At least with Manti Te’o, Deadspin did actual reporting and delivered a story that was 80% factual.
You could debunk “character concerns” with DeShone Kizer with the high tech investigative power of google dot com. https://t.co/9qivdjHKwP
— Irish Illustrated (@PeteSampson_) January 26, 2017
And I get that this isn’t a huge deal. But now, because The Big Lead ran this “I never saw the Senator hit his wife” piece, people will ask Kizer to deny an alternative fact. There’s no winning on this one until someone can actually provide an example of Kizer’s character issue. It’s one thing to do 99 things right and do one thing wrong and that becomes the thing for which people remember you. It’s another when you don’t even do the one thing wrong and someone decides that’s newsworthy and so now the bros who read your site will be sitting at Arby’s this afternoon, talking football, and someone will say, “I hear he has character issues.”
5. Where There’s a Wall, There’s a Way
The United States (that’s you and me) could wind up spending upwards of $40 billion on a wall on its southern border with Mexico (the most expensive security blanket to protect a 5 year-old from monsters in his closet anyone has ever seen) or it could watch the above 11-second clip from the highly underrated 2001 dark comedy-heist film, Sexy Beast.
To transcribe: “Where there’s a will, and there is a (bleeping’) will, there’s a way, and there is a (bleeping’) way. There’s always a (bleepin’) way.”
As long as there are more economic opportunities here, and that includes sales of illegal drugs to American consumers, there will be a problem of illegal immigration and drug smuggling. No wall is going to prevent that.
The trick isn’t to work on the wall; it’s to work on the will. To figure out a way where staying in Mexico is more attractive to Mexicans. Have you been to Mexico? It’s got so much potential, and maybe there’d be less corruption if there were more jobs, you know? Remember when every Republican’s secular saint, Ronald Reagan, said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall?” Well, I’d hate to think we’re going to go through all the expense of building this monstrosity only for someone else to have to paraphrase that a few years from now.
Love Is All Around
Who can turn the world on with her smile?/Who can take a nothing day and certainly make it all seem worthwhile/Well, it’s you girl and you should know it/With each little glance and every movement you show it/Love is all around, no need to fake it/You can have the town, why don’t you take it?/You’re gonna make it after all.”
The song was written and performed by Sonny Curtis (who’s still alive at age 79), who as a teenager in Texas had been a friend and bandmate of Buddy Holly. The two of them once played a show in which their band opened for a budding talent named Elvis Presley. This is the song and lyrics used for Seasons 2-7. The original Season 1 song had slightly different lyrics that posed more of a question as to our young heroine’s future.
Farmers Insurance Open
GOLF 3 p.m.
Tiger Woods AND Phil Mickelson both in the same event, played at Torrey Pines in lovely north San Diego County, not far from where both grew up? Sign me up. I really hope J.K. Simmons appears at every hole where someone hits into a bunker and assesses the damage.