‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’: Mary Richards Was Supposed to Be Divorced, but CBS Wouldn’t Allow the Idea
Those who grew up in the ’70s no doubt remember The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Mary Tyler Moore played Mary Richards, a woman in her 30s making her way through the world — and it turned a lot of stereotypes about women on its head. To make the CBS show even more modern, the creators hoped to introduce Richards as a divorced woman. But that concept certainly didn’t fly with the network.
Here’s what happened when the creators wanted Richards to be divorced and CBS wouldn’t allow it.
Mary Tyler Moore played Mary Richards, a single woman in her 30s
The Mary Tyler Moore Show was truly ahead of its time, as it started off with Richards as a woman in her 30s who wasn’t yet married. Not only did Richards not have a man on the horizon when the show began, but The Guardian notes she was depicted as a happy single person living alone and excited to date plenty of men instead of searching for a husband.
Not only was Richards perfectly OK with her single status, but she also proved to be a force in a male-dominated workplace. The Guardian notes she remained level-headed while dealing with her male higher-ups at the news program she worked for in Minneapolis. While the show could’ve easily started as Richards having career goals and pivoting toward hoping to find her dream man, it never went that route.
Aside from Richards, there were equally compelling women in the show. Valerie Harper played Rhoda Morgenstern, Richards’ best friend. Their friendship still stands as one of the most iconic bonds in TV history.
Mary Richards was originally written as a divorced woman
When the creators of the show were first developing Richards, they wanted her to be introduced as divorced. Mental Floss notes the creators wished Richards could enter as a character who was recently divorced and living on her own with a new job she had to get because of the absence of her ex-husband. Unfortunately, this idea didn’t fly with CBS. They worried having a show with a divorcée as the lead would sink ratings.
The show creators ultimately listened to CBS. And it looks like the network may have been right about many viewers disliking Richards being a divorced woman. Prior to The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Moore played Laura Petrie, Dick Van Dyke’s character’s wife on The Dick Van Dyke Show. And preview audiences seemed to have a hard time separating Moore from her two characters, thus getting upset at the prospect of Richards leaving Van Dyke.
Mary Richards started off ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’ as just exiting a long-term relationship
So, what did the show creators do now that Richards couldn’t be divorced? “We came up with the notion that this woman is coming off a long-term relationship with a guy at the Mayo Clinic,” Allan Burns, the co-creator of the show, shared with The Hollywood Reporter.
“They were somewhat satisfied; as long as they had gotten rid of the divorce idea, maybe they would tolerate us a little longer,” Burns continued. “And that’s what the first show was really about: a woman having to give up her small-town life in Rochester, Minnesota. The main title sets up the whole thing.”
Burns wanted to fight for the divorce back story, though. “We thought we were ready for their objections to divorce, because we said everybody is touched by divorce and it gives us an awful lot of possibilities story-wise,” he added. “They clearly were not happy.”
Despite the divorce storyline getting scrapped, Richards remained an unmarried woman until the TV movie, Mary and Rhoda, hit in 2000. It was revealed in the movie that Richards married, though her husband died.
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