Wednesday, November 03, 2010

You'd think a show starring Mary Tyler Moore would work

Thanks for the nice comments on the Katey Sagal/MARY episode I posted over the weekend. Also thanks to reader Dave Benson for actually keeping it these many years and uploading it on YouTube. I can’t believe in 24 years he didn’t tape over it. What follows, also thanks to Dave, is the pilot. Talk about a lost episode.

So today I thought I’d answer the NAQ’s (never asked questions) about the MARY show.

We originally had a different premise. In our initial idea Mary was the editor of the paper and Frank was her ex-husband now forced to work for her. Ironically, this is the exact premise CBS would employ for the Ted Danson series INK a few years later. We liked the idea of Mary being in charge.

But CBS had a big problem with it. They felt the audience wouldn’t accept Mary in that role. America wanted to see her as more of an extension of Mary Richards, they reasoned. Our BIG mistake was not saying no, we don’t want to do that. But we were young and stupid and Mary was also okay with the new (old) direction so we forged ahead.

But that decision proved ultimately to be the fatal flaw of the show because as we got into production it was clear that neither we, nor Mary was very comfortable. We all did the best we could. I think we created some fun characters. And tried to put a spin on the format by having some sexual tension between Mary and her editor. And it seemed fun seeing Mary in a real sleazy tabloid having to deal with lowlifes.

The pilot filming went so well that the president of CBS took us aside before pick-ups and said, “You’ve got five more.” So our order was upped to eighteen. Producers today will tell you that’s unheard of. Now they test everything ten times, wait for ratings for the first five weeks, and maybe give you a script order for two more.

But I can honestly say they liked the pilot TOO much. Originally we were supposed to be a 9:00 show but CBS decided this could be their COSBY and lead-off a night. So we were scheduled on Wednesdays at 8:00 against HIGHWAY TO HEAVEN, a top five show. We got decent ratings considering, but not the COSBY type numbers Mary was hoping for.

The creative differences kept mounting. Eventually we asked CBS to cut back the order to the original thirteen. Still, we were a good candidate to be renewed. But we told CBS and MTM that we would not return should the series come back. Our entire writing staff followed suit. Mary’s disappointment with the numbers was also apparent. Ultimately, CBS thought this was a headache not worth the effort. I felt bad for the rest of the cast and crew. They did a sensational job under trying circumstances.

Tomorrow I’ll let you in on the casting process.  It was, uh... lively.  But for now, for the first time in 24 years, here is the MARY pilot. Hope you like it. I’m still very proud of it.

15 comments: said...

The intro seems like "DALLAS". The discerning humour in "MARY" is key to success. According to me :)

Anonymous said...

Ok. wait... "I know Chicago... The CUBS!" - you want me to believe MTM is following that team. And that's one of the reasons she won't move to NYC. The other tidbit that surprised me: Directed by Danny de Vito? How'd that career turn out then.

Larry said...

I remember watching it. I really liked it and was disapponted the series didn't continue.

Mike Schryver said...

I also remember watching it - it did seem like there was something missing in the show as the series continued, or some way in which it wasn't coming together properly.
I *loved* Katey Sagal in this, though. I was glad to see her career take off.

Mac said...

I really enjoyed watching that, and it's so interesting to see it with the accompanying explanation.
I'm always fascinated to hear about the thought process that goes into the making of a comedy.
Blog on, brother!

Tom Mason said...

"Most of our readers use this paper for clothing." Great line!

Anonymous said...

Too much of this is similar to the original MTM show, even the opening, and it just doesn't measure up.

Pamela said...

Is that Head and Shoulders commercial from the original airing of the pilot... and could that be a young Rob Lowe, by any chance?

Ken, thanks for sharing this and the other episode. I would have loved to have seen them go with your original concept.

J S Swanson said...

Was there an MTM Commandment that decreed all it's female stars in the 80s had to wear sweaters?

gottacook said...

I remember watching the first broadcast of Mary and thinking, "Why 'Brenner'?" This name always rubbed me the wrong way - just not funny the way it should have been when John Astin says (repeatedly) her full name in his scene. It seemed to me then, and does now, that if a character's full name is to be used in dialogue by another character (repeatedly), it really has to be a funny name.

Can you please, when the mood strikes you, digress on the topic of (main cast) character name decisions?

Sam said...

I remember the show as not working at all. Just a pale imitation of her old show. And Mary as Lou Grant wouldn't have worked either. Mary was too old to play what she played before and too smug and dishonest at this point to play anything close to real. Her talent was gone. Sad but true. And "most of our readers..." is a writer's line and not a character line.

ttv said...

Maybe you are right Tom..

escalante blogger said...

Wow! That's already a memorable video.

Leigh said...

From the first scene, I was instantly reminded why Mary is a tv legend. You're instantly on her side, caring what happens to her. She's funny. And you believe she's living in that world, rather than acting in a sitcom.

This was a lot of fun to watch! There were several moments throughout where I laughed out loud. I do think Mary is funnier when she's timid-frustrated rather than irritated-frustrated. There are a lot of people that can do irritated, but only Mary does the tentative thing well. But then you'd have Mary Richards, I guess.

I liked that she stood up to the editor, but it seemed strange that she was so irritated from the beginning, even when she still thought she could talk her way into the job.

Agree with the other poster about Brenner as a last name. There's just something about it that doesn't feel right. It startled me when she said it, and then it kept coming up.

I really liked the scene where Mary tries to figure out (aloud) why she was hired. Very "Mary," and establishes the chemistry with her boss.

Loved the cast! Katey Sagal was especially strong, and who doesn't love John Astin? Loved the "Ed LaSalle!" thing to the hooker at the end.

I am really loving your blog, Ken. I just discovered it a few days ago, and have already read an insane amount of the archives. Fascinating stuff!

Steve said...

I was ready to like this, as I've long been a fan of this blog, but I didn't come close to laughing even once. It was much less stupid and annoying than most sitcoms, but it just wasn't funny or noteworthy at all.