Seeing the great reaction to the "Chuckles Bites the Dust" scene I posted a few days ago I decided to contact Allan Burns, one of the creators and executive producers of THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW and ask him for the inside story on that classic episode. Allan was kind enough to offer this:
The hard part was not in the writing. After a relatively short story meeting with Jim (Brooks), Ed. (Weinberger),Stan(Daniels) and me David (Lloyd) went off and wrote it. Just nailed it. One of us had read about some poor schlump who had died when he tried to put a large-size stewed tomato can over his head. Don't know what would have possessed him, but apparently his fellow workers found it a hilarious way to die and there was considerable merriment at the funeral. So, could we pass that one up? The script we shot was pretty much what David gave us in his first draft. So...no problems, right? Wrong. The problem was that Mary couldn't stop laughing through all those scenes where Murray and Lou were making peanut jokes. We went down for the first run-through and Mary pulled us aside and said, "I can't do this." We thought, like Jay, she thought it was tasteless, but she said she simply couln't get through all those scenes with a straight face. And if she sputtered the slightest bit, or even hinted at a smile, it would ruin the whole build up to the funeral. But we assured her that, being the trouper that she was, her actor's instincts would kick in and she'd get through it. Well, that was Wednesday, and for the next two days whenever she'd look at Gavin and Ed she'd blow. It was like Tim Conday and Harvey Korman and it continued right up to -- and through -- the last rehearsal before the show. By that time we were more than a little worried. Show time. Fingers crossed. And every time we got to one of those jokes, Mary sucked it up and stayed serious. Nobody dared talk to her, or even looked at her, like a pitcher with a perfect game going. I can't remember going into a final scene more nervous, but what you see is what we got. She was perfection. I think it got her the Emmy. Or didn't it?
Thanks so much, Allan. Here's that famous scene.