Friday, March 9, 2007

Mary Tyler Moore, March 19, 1977

Before the Mary Tyler Moore show, only once in television history had a sitcom ended with anything resembling a final episode. That was Here's Lucy, and while the final show might have been exchanged with any of the better Lucy shows over the years, it also concluded with a pie in the face of Uncle Harry, before he deadpans "I knew it would end this way." In many ways, it was the perfect ending to 25 years of regular television for Lucille Ball. But it was only an acknowledgment of the conclusion.

When the producers of Mary Tyler Moore decided to end the show's production in late fall of 1976, it was decided the season would build toward the conclusion. Numerous episodes wrapped up loose story lines and character threads, including a conclusion to the long suspected possibility of a Mary & Lou romance. All of this led to greater tension and publicity to that final date, March 19, 1977.

And the final show was another Mary Tyler Moore classic. Rhoda and Phyllis returned as the entire WJM crew lost their jobs . . . except the very problem of the news show, Ted Baxter. The final scene with the gang in a group hug, all moving toward the kleenex box 10 feet away, like one mass amoeba, was comedic perfection.

Many television viewers of the late 1970's will recall the sad emotions mixed with excitement of the final show. There just seemed to be a gigantic hole in network programming after the show's conclusion. The success of the final show, however, changed the way all television shows (with any choice in the matter) conclude a series. A series finale is a part of every hit show today, but on March 19, 1977, at 8:59 pm eastern time, it had not been done before. Sure Lucy wrapped her show up with a one-liner, and perhaps it had some impact on the producers of Mary Tyler Moore, but no sitcom before ended a show so perfectly, so hysterically, so emotionally, and so successfully as did the Mary Tyler Moore show and it set the standard for how any series attempts to conclude its run.

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