‘Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted’ Book Club Discussion Guide

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

Note: I’m based in New York City, but I’ll be in Northern California April 19-21, Washington D.C. May 18-20, Chicago June 2-8, and Los Angeles July 7-14. Please let me know if you’d like me to visit your book club on one of my trips.

Questions to Consider:

  • How does this book fit into the history of the 1970s overall?
  • How does it fit into the history of Hollywood?
  • What do you think it says about women on television?
  • Who was your favorite “character”?
  • What surprised you the most?
  • How has reading this book changed the way you think of The Mary Tyler Moore Show?
  • Mary Richards: Feminist or not?
  • Which episodes did it make you want to watch (again, or for the first time)?
  • Discuss women’s role in the workplace and in Hollywood during the 1970s. How has life changed for women since the beginning of The Mary…

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Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

url-2The Mary Tyler Moore Show
didn’t shy away from controversial topics, though it didn’t tackle them with nearly the same frequency as its contemporary, All in the Family. It took a while for the producers to figure out exactly how to approach hot issues in a way that felt right for them — not like an All in the Family rip-off. Two key episodes illustrate the differences: One, called “Some of My Best Friends Are Rhoda,” hammered away a little too much at the central issue, Rhoda being excluded from a country club because she’s Jewish; the other nailed the issue of Phyllis’ gay brother beautifully, subtly, and very Mary Tyler Moore-ly.

“Some of My Best Friends Are Rhoda” does boast one of the best episode titles on a show with lots of great episode titles. (“Toulouse Lautrec Is One of My Favorite Artists,” about Mary dating a…

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Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

mary-tyler-moore-200a072108The Mary Tyler Moore Show is no Sex and the City. I see SATC as MTM’s natural cultural heir — along with Girls and 30 Rock all the young-woman-in-the-city shows now — but was surprised by how many of the former MTM writers I interviewed for my book hated SATC. They seem to prefer more traditional sitcom craft; they all cited Modern Family as their favorite current show.

But Mary Tyler Moore did break new ground when it came to young, single women’s sexuality. At first, the show treaded lightly in the dating arena, sending Mary on random, mostly comical dates good for plot — a short guy, her journalism class teacher. And the writers always knew their limits, despite the progressive sensibility of the times. “Mary Goes to the Playboy Mansion, I think, was an idea whose time had never come,” writer Treva Silverman told me. “‘Mary swims…

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Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

themarytylermooreshow31506I would say yes, but that is because it reflects everything I like best in my sitcoms:

It has way more heart than Seinfeld.

It’s more realistic than I Love Lucy.

It’s more relatable than Arrested Development.

It’s more naturalistic than All in the Family, where the giant issues of the day descended upon the Bunker living room as if from above, to be debated (usually with yelling), and then dispensed with in 22 minutes. The Mary Tyler Moore Show‘s issues rarely felt forced: Of course Mary was on the pill. And Phyllis’ brother just happened to be gay.

Still, it’s more socially conscious than Friends or Cheers, more consistent than The Office or Roseanne, more groundbreaking than Dick Van Dyke, more engaging than Modern Family or Frasier.

It’s funnier and has much tighter plots than The Cosby Show. It inspired 30…

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Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

I didn’t post earlier because I was very busy today! Here are the things I did:

Planned more “book tour” dates for Sexy Feminism and Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Here’s my full schedule.

Started my regular blogging gig at Hollywood.com. I wrote today about why Beyonce transcends political boundaries and why it’s okay to obsess over Michelle Obama’s bangs.

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Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

MTM.8-14As we get closer to the release date (5/7/13!) of my Mary Tyler Moore Show book, Mary and Lou and Rhoda and TedI’m collecting fans’ memories and stories about what the show meant to them. Please share any of your thoughts in the comments below … I’d love to put them together for a series of blog posts when the book comes out to keep the discussion going.

First up: Who was your favorite Mary Tyler Moore Show character? Did you love down-to-earth Mary? Relate to the witty Rhoda? Wish Lou was your gruff-but-kind boss? Tell me!

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