The “In Memoriam” segments of awards shows always spark controversy as to who was and wasn’t included. In the 2017 Emmy Awards retrospective Mary Tyler Moore was given the final slot in the clip package. The montage ended with the touching inclusion of Mary Richards’ famous farewell moment from the final episode of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” where she looks back sad and lovingly at her WJM newsroom from which she has just been fired and turns out the light for the last time.
It was a touching moment in the Emmy segment which celebrated the lives of such TV luminaries as Florence Henderson, Don Rickles, Debbie Reynolds, and Carrie Fisher who also passed away this year. But did Mary deserve more than this?
Four years ago, the Emmys featured several segments where former colleagues took to the stage to discuss the deaths of James Gandolfini, Jean Stapleton and Corey Monteith. The telecast became known as the saddest Emmy show ever. Perhaps in wanting to avoid that this year, the producers chose not to single out anyone person’s passing.
But Moore, a seven-time Emmy winner, deserved special attention. Indeed, long-time MTM fan Oprah was seated front and center. What a missed opportunity not to have one of TV’s greatest communicators be given the chance to pay tribute to her role model and beloved friend.
Moore and her self-titled show remains one of the most popular and acclaimed in TV history and it still airs regularly on the Sundance Channel and MeTV. Moore’s character of Mary Richards is often cited as a great cultural landmark for its depiction of a thirtysomething single woman trying to “make it after all” in the then man’s world of television news. Beyond Oprah such diverse personalities as Katie Couric and Lena Dunham have cited Mary as an inspiration.
Beyond the influence she had on future professional women Mary Richards was comfort food for a TV generation struggling thru the post-Watergate and post-Vietnam era of the seventies. While another popular and fellow CBS Saturday Night Primetime show’s characters of the Bunkers of “All in the Family” shouted and fought the political issues of the day, Mary and her friends and co-workers (Rhoda, Lou Grant, Murray, Phyllis, and even Ted Baxter) were beloved friends for a nation struggling thru difficult times.
Moore’s television success extended far beyond her own show including two Emmy wins for her earlier role on “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and numerous nominations and another Emmy win for her work in a variety of dramatic made for television movies.
To many loyal fans Mary Tyler Moore wasn’t just a television star. She was TV. She was a pioneer and a beloved friend. As her co-star Valerie Harper often described the three main female characters of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” Phyllis (Cloris Leachman) was who you dreaded becoming, Rhoda (Harper) was who you probably were and Mary was who you wanted to be.
While the Emmy segment did pay tribute to Moore (with a nice assist from Audi car makers who played a commercial using the MTM theme and the words “Thanks Mary” across the screen) I can’t help but wish that the woman “who could turn the world on with her smile” got more of a sendoff.