Sunday, February 05, 2012

Written by Treva Silverman

Here are some scenes from THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW written by Treva Silverman. These are from her first drafts. For those not familiar with the show, Mary's friends are Rhoda (Valerie Harper), Phyllis (Cloris Leachman), and her boss is Lou Grant (Ed Asner).

Rhoda, who has been dieting for months, has just returned from a meeting at Weight Losers and is telling Mary about it.


So there was this big event tonight. Once a month the group leader announces how much combined weight all the Weight Loser groups lost in the whole city. And you know how much we dropped this month? Nine thousand, three hundred and thirty three pounds.

Really? Wow!

More than nine thousand pounds. I don’t really like to dwell on it, actually. I mean, if you took all that fat and shaped it around, kind of, you could make over six hundred strange little people –- six hundred mushy little round things. Who need a lot of muscle toning.

(As Rhoda's saying this, Mary unthinkingly starts unwrapping a candy bar. Suddenly she stops, flustered, uncertain what to do.)

Oh….uh --

No. Look, I mean, you have a right to live, too. And I have to learn how to deal with the….candy area of life. I can’t expect the whole world to stop what they're doing and survive on cottage cheese, now, can I? (A slight, almost imperceptible licking of her lips; plaintively) Mair, what does chocolate taste like?

Taste like? Really?

Yeah…Tell me…and don’t hold anything back.

(taking a bite) Well…uh…well, it tastes…dark….

(a little involuntary moan emanates from her throat; embarrassed) Oh, sorry….(dreamily) Yeah…dark…right…it’s dark and…textury…and richly smooth, right?

Well, yes…in a way…

(a far-off gaze) What about almonds? Does it have almonds?

(hesitantly) A few…

Oh, good, I love almonds! Are you eating an almond right now?

Uh, yes. Rhoda --

(Mary, self-conscious, turns a little away. Rhoda follows her, mesmerized. Finally Mary finishes the candy bar as Rhoda lives along with each bite.)

(sighs) Oh, Mary…that was the best candy bar I ever watched. (Hopefully) You know what I feel in the mood for? Why don’t you have some butter pecan ice cream right now?

No, I don’t think so. (doubtfully) Thanks.

Maybe later?

We’ll see.


Lou and Mary are in Mary’s apartment, talking.


(There’s a knock at the door. Phyllis bursts in. She’s wearing a very glamorous long dress.)

(upbeat) Hi, hi!

(unthrilled) Hi, hi.

Hello, Phyllis.

(Phyllis holds her arms out, demonstrating her dress.)

New dress. (whirls around) You likee?

Oh, very much.

(to Lou)
Lou, you likee?

Yeah, I……likee.

(Phyllis, in her own little world, laughs merrily.)

I saw it on the rack…and I thought, but it’s so glamorous. Do I dare wear something this glamorous? I mean, I’m not a model or anything….the very idea….I mean, me? A model?

(There is no reaction.)

(laughs) Me?

(She waits She laughs again. No reaction.)

A model?

(She laughs. Nobody reacts. She slowly stops laughing. Her eyes narrow.)

(flatly) What I’m saying is I think I’m not beautiful. I’m saying I’m almost plain -- too plain to ever become a model. Under any circumstances. Whatsoever.

No, you’re not, Phyllis. You…I mean…you know, maybe you could be a model.

(after a beat, preens) Oh, you’re just saying that.


Howard Hoffman said...

The MTM Show always struck a perfect tone, whether it was in the workplace or in Mary Richards' personal life. Treva did an amazing job in bringing the female POV to the latter without resorting to cheap laughs. The writers were all fluent in being funny AND warm. The show reflected that.

dgwphotography said...

Thank you for showcasing Ms. Silverman's wonderful work. It's nice to be reminded what smart comedy is.

Mike said...

"For those not familiar with the show, Mary's friends are Rhoda (Valerie Harper), Phyllis (Cloris Leachman), and her boss is Lou Grant (Ed Asner)."

I appreciate this explanation for those folks but have to wonder what they are doing here. :)

James said...

I've seen that cholocate scene a dozen times. But reading it for the first time--I never realized how much it sounds like phone sex.

Michael said...

My late adviser was diagnosed as diabetic. One day, I bought a Three Musketeers bar and had taken one bite when I saw him coming. I realized he would suffer and I ... swallowed the rest whole. I've never felt quite the same way about Three Musketeers since.

What is really striking about the scripts is how well they prove the point that great comedy really is in the characters. The dialogue is funny, yes, but knowing the characters, they are very funny.

Mark said...

I was 12 years old when The Mary Tyler Moore Show went off the air. Yet I think everything I know about comedy today I learned from watching it.

KG said...

Ken, for Friday questions:

Have you ever (or writers you know) had problems with actors because of different political believes?

Like maybe there was a scene that promoted liberal values and an actor didn't like it because he or she was a conservative? And vice versa, of course.

Greetings, Kaan

Kirk said...

Again, great stuff. Does Treva Silverman still write for TV? We could use her nowadays

Sue said...

There is a video interview with Treva Silverman at the Archive of American Television talking about her work and experiences.

RCP said...

I wonder if Treva Silverman was responsible for one of my favorite Rhoda lines. After Mary stumbles through the door carrying two bags of groceries, the bags tear and the food scatters all over the floor. Mary goes into the kitchen as Rhoda enters and sees the mess:

"It looks like somebody mugged Betty Crocker."

Johnny Walker said...

Haha. The second one made me laugh out loud.

Johnny Walker said...

@Mike, Being young and foreign :)

Kathleen said...

Thanks so much for this post about Treva Silverman. I've loved the Mary Tyler Moore show for years (and still catch the reruns every weekday night on METV) and have always wanted to know Treva's story (of course I was too lazy to google information for myself). And Sue, I plan to check out the link in your comment.

estiv said...

One thing that stands out is that there's no contrived premise in either of the pieces. The sequence that each describes could be something that happens in real life, except for the fact that the dialogue is flawlessly extended beyond any real-life breaking point. Wonderful stuff.

-bee said...

This kind of writing is what "Two Broke Girls" desperately needs. TBG has characters with potential, but way too often falls back on cheap smutty jokes for laughs instead of humor based on character.

Jaime J. Weinman said...

One thing I was surprised at, rewatching the show, is that it hired many women writers early on (as one might expect) and then abruptly stopped. The original female writers, like Charlotte Brown, went off to other shows (where she ran Rhoda).

By the time Ed. Weinberger and Stan Daniels took over, the only writers they hired were guys who shared a variety background with them, like David Lloyd and Bob Ellison (exceptional hires, of course). Apart from Silverman doing two episodes in season 5, it was basically an all-male writing staff from then on, and so was Taxi in some seasons, and so was The Simpsons for a long time. Not that they weren't great writing staffs, but MTM's attempt to give a break to woman writers seemed to fade away a bit.

Sometimes I think it might account for some of the difference in perspective between early and later "Mary" episodes; with Rhoda and Phyllis gone, and with an all-male staff, it subtly shitfted toward being a more guy-oriented show (there certainly were a ton more Ted episode).

Larry said...

Thanks for these samples. I'd love to see more. The MTM show was one of the greatest sitcoms ever, not to mention one of the most influential, and Treva Silverman was a central figure in creating its style.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I know I'm in the minority on this, but as well-written as those scenes are, I found so much of that show just plain irritating. I've loved actresses like Cloris Leachman and Betty White in other things, but I disliked almost all the female characters on that show - Phyllis, Sue Ellen, and Georgette all left me completely cold. And Ted Baxter was, I think, the first TV character I ever truly hated.

Going back and watching the first few shows - as I did after this post - just brings back how annoying I found it. The MTM folks have complained, I think, that Murphy Brown copied a lot of what they did and then claimed it was ground-breaking, but what I loved about MB was that she wasn't timid and shaky; she was as arrogant and confident as they come - and she was smart and still having to make her way in a man's world. That said, the show did not hold up well during much of its run.

The fact is I like watching smart comedy. Stupid characters don't make me laugh at their stupidity; they make me angry at the writers.


Anonymous said...

Checking out old "Monkees" clips re: untimely death of Jones. Just discovered this post searching "Treva Silverman." Saw 30 Rock rerun a few nights ago. Apres Jack's heart attack, he must attend big all American Gueiss (sp) picnic.
I'm SURE 30 Rock writers never saw this ep of MTM, sweet brunette in the big city TV newsroom. EVER. Nice blog.
This fool is FAR from anonymous; however, Blogger hates my fool's face. Jeannie Weller Cooper FB- Panama City Beach:Creature from the Grand Lagoon