What Can Your Morning Show Learn from Mary Tyler Moore?

Lots of people (mostly men) say women aren't funny.  10 years ago, Christopher Hitchens wrote a famous column in Vanity Fair about men who don't think women are funny.   Back in the 50's and 60's, the women that broke into comedy were loud and raunchy - Joan Rivers, Phyllis Diller, Moms Mabley - because it's easy to get a laugh with a sex joke.  (And don't forget early groundbreakers like Rusty Warren - I remember the eyeopening day I found her LPs in Dad's closet.)  And while I'm not a fan, "2 Broke Girls" continues that bawdy tradition of cheap laughs.

Or they were slapstick and/or inconsequential eye candy (not to take anything away from Lucille Ball or Tina Louise.)

Mary Tyler Moore was not a comedian. She broke into show business from the waist down as Sam the secretary on the TV show "Richard Diamond - Private Detective." She covered those famous legs with capri pants in her iconic role of TV housewife of Dick Van Dyke.  She took the money (and leverage) she gained from that success to start her own production company to create "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."  It was groundbreaking and not always family friendly, but it was always funny in a touching and human way. She opened doors for women, not only to be on TV, but to be funny as real human women.

Take for example, "Chuckles Bites The Dust" -

This famous scene (some say the funniest moment ever on television) is still funny today, no matter how many times you've seen it.  I watched the entire episode again while writing this. The set up to this "punch line" was brilliant, based on characters that were well-defined and deftly executed. We've never laughed so hard watching someone cry (and felt so bad about it). And it was a woman making us laugh, without falling down the stairs or telling a raunchy joke.

How does this apply to your morning show?

1) A women can lead and carry a show.  She doesn't need to be the funniest (Murray and Lou often had the punch lines) but she needs to be encouraged to try.   She doesn't need a huge Ted Baxter ego, just a little bit of confidence that pops up on a regular basis.  She doesn't even have to be "the boss" to be the anchor of the show.  Make her the focal point by...

2) Defining her role (and the roles of every other cast member.) Leading radio morning show coaches (like Tracy Johnson and Steve Reynolds) say role definitions are one of the most important parts of a successful morning show.  Why do morning show people reject this idea? Defining who you are and what your role in on the show is more than just a little work. But it's the sort of work that makes things MUCH easier as the show grows and develops.  Who's the movie geek who will see all the nominated films before the Oscars?  Who's the parent that complains about snow days and dealing with daycare?

3) MTM had a lot in common with other successful shows of the 70's - they portrayed real life for perhaps the first time on a TV sitcom.  Mary, struggling to succeed as a woman in a man's world (instead of the slapstick of Lucy and Ethel. Archie and his family struggling to deal with the changes in society (as opposed to the rose colored glasses the Bradys wore) .  Hawkeye and HotLips and the horrors of war (not the summer camp where Hogan lived.)  Today's morning shows reflect real life.   What did you do yesterday that will relate to the person sitting alone in their car using your station as a companion?

I might recommend asking your morning show to spend a few hours watching MTM episodes that will show up in mass quantities on cable TV this weekend (MeTV) and next (Decades).


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