Thursday, May 24, 2007
Recently it was announced for the first time in their history that NBC was not debuting any sitcoms in their upcoming Fall lineup. I realize that everything goes in cycles but for people who grew up with classic sitcoms as a part of their family this news is more than a little shocking.
I have been meaning to write on THE MARY TYLER MOORE show for awhile since it is a real favorite of mine and because I am frankly mystified by its failure in the dvd market.
Few shows in history were more critically acclaimed or loved by its fans than THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW. While never being a number one hit, the show consistently received solid ratings in it's initial run from 1970-1977. It won many awards, was successful in syndication and for the millions of people who fell in love with Mary and the crew of WJM, it became part of our lives.
Along with a handful of other shows from the early 1970's THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW broke major barriers in the way people viewed women and minorities on television. The importance of Mary Tyler Moore, the person and the character, Mary Richards, she played shouldn't be underestimated in modern culture. Equally important were Valerie Harper's Rhoda Morgenstern as well as the often overlooked Gordy the weatherman played by John Amos. Here was a show that presented people of different color, sex and religion joined together in work and friendship; the show showed it was possible they could love each other and we loved them. THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW was amazingly progressive and groundbreaking in the way that it presented real people instead of typical stereotypes.
The show was also important in the way that it presented friendship between women. The early years are particularly moving in looking at the way Mary and Rhoda related to each other. Bonds between women in early tv often focused on the men in their lives, THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW presented two extremely independent women who loved each and felt a kinship that didn't center on men, and this dynamic would have a huge effect on countless shows after. Also the handling of the work place and the surrogate family Mary forms there has been copied over and over again, but it would never feel as real or as endearing as it does in this show.
Still none of that would mean much if the show hadn't succeeded as a situation comedy, but the fact is that it did and continues to. This is an incredibly funny show, and there isn't one episode I can think of that doesn't at least make me laugh at loud a couple of times. James L. Brooks and Allan Burns managed to create a show in 1970 that featured a group of the best actors, writers and directors in the business and from the beginning it always seemed a step above all the others.
Within the past few years a statue has been erected in Minneapolis celebrating Mary's iconic hat being thrown in the air, CHUCKLES BITES THE DUST was voted the greatest episode in television history by a panel of critics and fans and the show is still considered one of the best examples of how good tv can be...so why has it failed on dvd?
THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW premiered on dvd in late 2002. The first season box was an elaborate affair featuring all of the initial episodes, commentaries, rare promo spots, Emmy award clips, a booklet, a deluxe box and a very detailed 90 minute documentary. The studio obviously felt like it had a major winner on its hands and wasn't skimping on it. As further evidence of their belief in it the supplements were specific to Season One with hints that each season would feature the same elaborate extras. Also the first season came with a card promising the second season in March 03. It was released to much acclaim as one of the best presentations of a tv show yet on the format...and nobody bought it.
I remember getting the set the day it came out and being floored by all the extras and the opportunity to watch the show in order. It also got me excited at the prospect of it's spin-off shows, including the landmark RHODA and LOU GRANT series as well as PHYLLIS, also being released. I pictured the young decade as being a time when I would be able to revisit all of the great shows from the MTM family.
I hadn't read about the poor sales but remember around Christmas time of 02 being in a local Best Buy and noticing that there seemed to be the same copies of the box on their shelves that had been there months before.
Soon Amazon removed Season Two from it's pre-order page and March of 03 came and went and the second box was no where to be seen. So what happened?
The main problem was in a bad pricing scheme that I think has damaged the entire series on disc. The original season was marked at nearly three times the cost of other shows coming out. This huge difference really hurt it. The only reason the second season eventually did get released is that the studio finally lowered the price of the first. This marketing error destroyed the momentum the show had in 2002. It had just come off a successful syndicated tv run, a Reunion show had been aired to high ratings and it was honored in grand style at the TVLand awards. It was a perfect moment to release the show but a sixty dollar tag on it pushed away any potential new or curious fans. I think to this day people still don't have any of the season's because they remember that initial high price and have never thought to revisit it.
Season Two was released 3 years after the first in a slimmed down set with just a few extras. It sold even less than the first season. Seasons Three and Four were released in 2006 just six months apart from each other. The extras had been completely dropped by this point and sales plummeted even further. To date Season Four (one of the funniest years of any sitcom ever) has sold less than 75,000 copies.
Late last year Twentieth Century Fox announced that due to poor sales the final three seasons of THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW have been shelved. There is an online petition to get them out but it is doubtful that it will happen anytime soon. With TVLand getting further and further away from classic tv it looks like these last three seasons might be missing in action in any format for quite a while.
Of course it can't all be blamed on a once high price tag. There just seems to be something in the air this decade that is about as far removed from the seventies' positive role models as possible. After all this is a decade where Paris Hilton is considered a role model by many young girls so what place could Mary Richards hold right now?
Like I said though at the beginning of this...things go in cycles and this show will return. Quality lasts long after the cloud of what is fashionable passes.
THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW lasted for 168 episodes, it one nearly thirty Emmy's and three Golden Globe Awards. Its ceator has since gone on to win several academy awards and its writers contributed scripts week after week that that featured situations and ideas that are more than just a little relevant to this day. The cast featuring Mary Tyler Moore, Valerie Harper, Ed Asner, Ted Knight, Gavin Macleod, Cloris Leachman, Goergia Engel and Betty White were among the finest actors the Seventies had to offer.
And it was always very, very funny.
For an entire generation that grew up with this show, it is still proof positive that we can indeed make it on our own...it will return.