The Mary Tyler Moore Show’s Behind-The-Scenes Secrets

Mary Richards was a thirty-something single woman who moved to Minneapolis after breaking up with a boyfriend. As a spunky go-getter, she landed an associate producer position at the lowest-rated station in the area. Although her boss Lou Grant hates her attitude, he regularly looks to Mary to solve the network’s problems. The Mary Tyler Moore Show aired from 1970 to 1977 and during that time it was one of the highest-rated series on network TV. In celebration of the show’s amazing run, we have collected a bunch of information about the show’s characters and stars. You won’t believe some of these behind-the-scenes secrets that kept the show going over the years.

The Dick Van Dyke Show Helped Launch Mary’s Solo Sitcom Career

After The Dick Van Dyke Show ended in 1966, Mary Tyler Moore made a deal with Universal Pictures to star in three films. Moore reunited with her old co-star in 1969 for a CBS special.

CBS via Getty Images
CBS via Getty Images

After the success of the special, CBS offered Moore a half-hour slot on the network with a guarantee of 24 episodes.

Gavin MacLeod Originally Auditioned For The Role Of Lou Grant

Grant Tinker, co-founder of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, invited Gavin MacLeod to audition for the role of Lou Grant but after auditioning, requested to read for Mary’s co-worker, Murray Slaughter.

He thought he could bring more to the table as Slaughter and the producers agreed after seeing his performance.

Ted Knight Lived Paycheck-To-Paycheck When He Was Cast As Ted Baxter

After many auditions to cast Ted Baxter, producer Dave Davis saw Ted Knight performing in a local Broadway production comedy of You Know I Can’t Hear You When the Water’s Running. He told the rest of the team about Knight’s humor and requested him to audition.

Knight showed up to the audition wearing an Anchorman-style blue blazer purchased from a thrift store using money that was supposed to go towards rent and he won producers over with his booming voice and comedic jokes.

Ted Knight Almost Quit

Halfway through the third season of the show, Knight had a breakdown in front of co-creator, Allan Burns. Audiences were confusing Knight with his character, Ted Baxter, who was an unintelligent schmuck.


After carrying on with the show and the series progressed, writers gave Baxter a girlfriend, marriage, and an occasional special episode to remind the audience that he wasn’t all bluster.

Valerie Harper Almost Didn’t Get the Role of Rhoda Because She Was Too Attractive

The character of Rhoda was originally described as a self-made loser, overweight and self-deprecating, with bad hair and makeup. Out of all the auditions, Harper made the biggest impression on the show’s producers.

Photo credit: Bettmann / Contributor / Getty
Photo credit: Bettmann / Contributor / Getty

For the second audition, the producers asked her to frump herself up a bit, but she was still too pretty. In order to keep Harper, the producers rethought the character.

The Men In The Cast Didn’t Miss Valerie Harper When She Left

Eventually, Valerie Harper’s character Rhoda became popular enough to land her own spinoff series. Despite being sweet and easy to work with, the men on the show didn’t miss her when she left.

With Rhoda still on the show, many episodes focused more on the girls and took away from the men’s screen time in the newsroom.

It Was The First U.S. Network Series To Break Character And Feature A Curtain Call

After The Mary Tyler Moore Show had ran for seven consecutive and successful seasons, Grant Tinker and Mary Tyler Moore decided to end their show.

This show was the first U.S. network series that allowed its characters to say their farewells to one another during the show and it also resulted in Moore introducing cast mates individually for a final curtain call before the end credits were rolled.

Sue Ann Gets the Axe

In Season 7 Episode 17, Lou claims that Mary applied for the job as an associate producer at WJM back in Episode 1, even though she wasn’t qualified. In actuality, Mary applied for the secretarial position that was already filled. Lou offered Mary the associate producer job at a lower pay.

This is just one of the various continuity flaws in the show.

Look at Us, We’re Walking

In Season 7 Episode 13, Mary claims that in seven years of working at WJM, she had never been absent nor late. This isn’t true.

There have been occasions in the series where Mary is over one hour late due to Phyllis and she’s also late when Rhoda’s apartment catches on fire.

Mary Midwife

In the last episode of Season 6, Ted and Georgette adopted a boy and announced that they were also pregnant.


Flash forward to the first episode of Season 7: Georgette is now 9 months pregnant and Ted and Georgette fail to mention anything about their newly-adopted son.

The Georgette Story

In Season 3 Episode 18 while talking to Rhoda, Mary tells her that she was the one to introduce Ted and Georgette (who was Rhoda’s co-worker at Hemphill’s Department Store).

But earlier in Season 3, Ted and Georgette had met at Rhoda’s going-away party and introduced themselves to each other.


In Season 2 Episode 24, Mary tries to find a candidate to interview for Face the People, which was a Sunday news program that discussed political issues of the day.

This program was actually a spoof of the CBS program Face the Nation, which has been running on Sunday mornings since 1954.

Rolling Credits

Season 1 Episode 9 of the show is the first episode where the closing credits began to roll on top of an actual scene. This first scene was during Ted’s acceptance speech in the middle of the newsroom.


This eventually became a standard practice on sitcoms two decades later, used in series like Ellen and Roseanne.

Mary Tyler Moore

When she first starred as Mary Richards, a feisty local news producer in Minneapolis, Mary Tyler Moore was 34 years old. The actress had already appeared on numerous television shows, but The Mary Tyler Moore Show gave her a top spot in pop culture.


Since then, Moore has appeared in several Broadway shows, TV movies and has had recurring roles in sitcoms. She has also released two memoirs, works as an animal rights activist, and promotes juvenile diabetes awareness.

Ed Asner

Edward “Ed” Asner played Richard’s tough, but deep-down-loving newsroom boss and producer Lou Grant. He started the show as a tough guy, but as it progressed, he revealed the teddy bear deep within. After The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Asner starred in his very own spinoff show about his character.

Asner As Grant
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

He is the only actor to ever win an Emmy for the same character in both the drama and comedy categories. After that, he also had roles in movies such as Elf and Up. Sadly, Asner passed away on August 29, 2021.

Valerie Harper

Valerie Harper played Mary’s loud-mouthed New Yorker best friend and neighbor, Rhoda. Harper was humorous and sassy, and a tad self-deprecating. After doing The Mary Tyler Moore Show for four seasons, Harper’s character also got a spinoff show, Rhoda, which aired for an additional four years.


After Rhoda, Harper made appearances in hit shows such as Melrose Place and Sex and the City. She even competed on Dancing with the Stars back in 2013. She passed away in 2019.

Gavin MacLeod

MacLeod was known for playing the role of Murray Slaughter, a lovable news writer at WJM-TV While he was happily married, he was head-over-heels in love with Mary. After The Mary Tyler Moore Show, MacLeod earned the starring role in the series, The Love Boat.


Beginning in 1986, he was the spokesperson for Princess Cruises. He passed away on May 29, 2021.

Ted Knight

Knight played Ted Baxter, the narcissistic and witty anchorman on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. His character often flopped and was never too knowledgeable in the topics he covered, but he believed that he was the best news anchor in the country. After the series ended, Knight went on to star in his own show, which flopped after just six episodes. But he later starred on the hit show Too Close For Comfort, which was later renamed The Ted Knight Show.


Shortly after the end of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Knight was diagnosed with cancer. In 1986, he passed away from surgical complications related to his illness.

Cloris Leachman

Cloris Leachman played Phyllis Lindstrom, the nosy and snobby wife of dermatologist Dr. Lars Lindstrom. Her character owned the building in which Mary and Rhoda lived. In order to start her own spinoff series, Phyllis, she left The Mary Tyler Moore Show in 1975. After the show ended, she won an Oscar and multiple Emmys.

Cbs Photo Archive / Getty Images
Cbs Photo Archive / Getty Images

She has appeared on sitcoms such as Raising Hope and held the record of being the oldest contestant to compete on Dancing with the Stars. Leachman passed away on January 26, 2021.

Betty White

Betty White played Sue Anne Nivens, the perky, perfectionist host of The Happy Homemaker on WJM-TV. Her character was sweet on-screen, but off-screen she was snarky, mean and men obsessive. Since The Mary Tyler Moore Show, White starred in The Golden Girls and made a huge career revival in the 2000s by booking a role on the sitcom Hot in Cleveland.

She even got her own reality show, Betty White’s Off Their Rockers She has also played supporting roles in films such as The Proposal and Bringing Down the House.

Mary Tyler Moore’s Passing

On January 25, 2017, the entertainment world received some unwanted news: its beloved Mary Tyler Moore had passed away at the age of 80. Moore had struggled with diabetes for years, according to her publicist. One report claimed that she’d been on a respirator for the week leading to her death.


She’d learned to manage her diabetes soon after her diagnosis at age 33, around the time The Mary Tyler Moore Show was starting.

Valerie Harper Passes Away At 80

On August 30, 2019, Mary Tyler Moore Show fans suffered another loss with the passing of Valerie Harper. The Emmy-award-winning actress passed away following a long battle with cancer, having been diagnosed with lung cancer in 2009 and brain cancer in 2013.


Her husband Tony Cacciotti broke the sad news to fans on Facebook, stating, “My beautiful caring wife of nearly 40 years has passed away at 10:06 am, after years of fighting cancer. She will never, ever be forgotten. Rest in Peace, mia Valeria.”