Sunday, March 19, 2017

A Special Night

"I just wanted you to know that sometimes I get concerned about being a career woman. I get to thinking my job is too important to me, and I tell myself that the people I work with are just the people I work with and not my family. And last night, I thought, 'What is a family, anyway?' They're just people who make you feel less alone and really loved. And that's what you've done for me. Thank you for being my family."

Mary Tyler Moore

I think I will always regret the fact that Mary Tyler Moore did not live a few more months.

I had nothing to do with her death, of course. I have no more power over life and death than any other human being, and I completely understand that we all will die someday so I do not lament the fact that she is dead. She was 80 years old, after all.

But I do wish she could have lived until today — the 40th anniversary of the final episode of the Mary Tyler Moore Show, which is still one of the best television programs of all time. It just doesn't seem right that she missed this milestone.

The episode was called, appropriately, "The Last Show." That isn't quite as flippant as it sounds. Yes, it was the last episode of the Mary Tyler Moore Show — but it was about the last news broadcast at fictional TV station WJM with the familiar crew of Mary, Murray (Gavin MacLeod), Ted (Ted Knight), Sue Ann (Betty White) and Mr. Grant (Ed Asner).

Well, one person would remain at WJM.

The story line was that there was a new station manager (Vincent Gardenia) who wanted to make some dramatic changes. He came to speak to Lou (Ed Asner) to get some input on where to make cuts in the newsroom, and Lou suggested that he should watch the evening news and judge for himself.

Ted (Ted Knight) was certain that this would be the end for him so he began doing everything he could to ingratiate himself to the new boss.

And, apparently, it worked, because the station manager decided to let everyone go — except Ted. For long–time viewers of the show, I guess that was really the only way it could have gone. It made it seem more final — if such a thing is possible.

I guess the last half of the episode was mostly a sentimental journey for the cast and the show's fans. Mary was depressed by the turn of events, and Mr. Grant, in an attempt to raise her spirits, arranged for her old friends Rhoda (Valerie Harper) and Phyllis (Cloris Leachman) to return to Minneapolis for a visit.

Back in the newsroom the inevitable time for goodbyes arrived following the final newscast. That led to a group hug and an oft–imitated exit with the cast marching out of the newsroom singing "It's a Long Way to Tipperary" and Mary peeking back in the newsroom one last time.

The story itself wasn't especially memorable — even though it did reunite Mary with two of the series' early regulars who left the show before Sue Ann and Georgette (Georgia Engel) joined it; thus the final episode was the only time all of the primary characters in the series — the ones I have already mentioned along with news writer Murray Slaughter (Gavin MacLeod) — appeared in the same episode together.

And when all eight came out and took a curtain call after the episode ended, that was a first as well.

Actually, I don't believe the show's cast ever did a curtain call before — so that was a one–time–only event.

And I am quite sure they never appeared on the same stage at the same time either before or after the night the episode was taped.

It was a special night all the way around.