Mary (Mary Tyler Moore): I didn't think I was asking for that much, but I haven't met anyone who even comes close. Someone who doesn't care how I look because he's more concerned with who I am. Somebody strong and intelligent who respects me, who I can respect, who has gentleness in him. I guess there just aren't any men like that.
Georgette (Georgia Engel): Sure there are. You know one.
Mary: Well, if I do, I sure wish you'd point him out.
Georgette: Lou Grant.
Mary: Come on!
Georgette: He has every quality you said you wanted, and I'll throw in one of my own — he's cute as a button!
With any other sitcom, I would say that the subject matter of the episode that premiered 40 years ago tonight was the introduction of a new plot twist, which is a common strategy to spice up a once–popular series that is rapidly declining in the ratings.
And with any other sitcom, I would probably be right.
But I am speaking of the episode of the Mary Tyler Moore Show that premiered on this night in 1977 — exactly one week before the series took its final bow. And it was still popular. The decision to leave 'em while they still wanted more was made by the cast and creators, not by the network.
If you could have polled the show's fans 40 years ago, I'm certain that just about all of them would have voted to keep the show on the air. But if it had remained on the air, it is doubtful that the episode that first aired on this night in 1977 never would have aired at all. It would have marked a significant shift in the direction of the show; it was probably best to leave it
In the episode "Lou Dates Mary," a date that ended badly prompted Mary (Mary Tyler Moore) to reflect on a lifetime of dating (2,000 dates by her calculation) and conclude that maybe there wasn't a "Mr. Right" in the cards for her.
She was telling this to Georgette (Georgia Engel) who suggested that Mary should date Lou Grant (Ed Asner). Initially, Mary scoffed at the suggestion, but it gradually dawned on her that Georgette might be right so she went into Lou's office and, even though her upbringing made it difficult for her to ask a man out, she did so, anyway.
When she did, Lou's response was probably what mine would be if a much younger female colleague came to me and told me she wanted to date me. He laughed. It was preposterous.
But Mary was serious, and, after some deliberation, Lou accepted. They agreed to have dinner at Mary's place that night.
As the appointed hour drew near, though, Lou was vacillating. He and Murray (Gavin MacLeod) had drinks after the evening news was finished. They were going to talk, but Murray had no idea what they were going to talk about.
(Now, as a journalist, I have to point out something here. Perhaps I am nitpicking and, granted, my experience in journalism has been on the print side so take this with as many grains of salt as you require. We lived by deadlines. I presume that people in broadcasting live by deadlines as well, but their deadlines involve broadcast schedules.
(In every city in which I lived, the local TV stations had early and late newscasts. They were always live. The late newscast was never a tape of the broadcast from four hours earlier. Too much can — and does — happen in that span of time, and someone, usually several someones, must be there in case the weather turns bad or a jury reaches a verdict in a high–profile trial — or, as was the case here in Dallas last summer, some police officers get shot during a protest. Presumably the folks at WJM had a late newscast, too, but they were always socializing after their newscast — presumably the one at 6 p.m. — was over. If there was a later newscast, it must have been manned by other people.
(I've worked for newspapers that had multiple deadlines, but social lives were put on hold until after the final deadlines. I have long wondered how many people were moved to become journalists after watching the Mary Tyler Moore Show, believing it would be a regular 9–to–5 job that paid well enough for them to dine at fancy restaurants and have drinks in ritzy clubs in their off hours. Boy, were they in for a rude awakening!)
Anyway, Lou confided in Murray, who was stunned at first but ended up reassuring Lou that it wasn't such a ridiculous idea, and Lou proceeded to Mary's apartment.
Lou didn't want to show up empty–handed so he brought flowers. But he couldn't remember Mary's favorite flower so he brought three bouquets — along with a bottle of wine, some chocolates and a can of mixed nuts.
Ladies, when was the last time a gentleman caller brought you three bouquets, a bottle of wine, a box of chocolates and a can of mixed nuts?
Even though Mary and Lou had known each other for seven years, this was a new situation, and there was the usual awkwardness of a first date.
"It's funny," Mary observed at one point, "the two of us who have known each other as long as we have suddenly ill at ease, in suspense ..."
"In suspense about what?" Lou asked.
"You know," Mary replied, "about what's going to happen. Both of us wondering whether you're gonna, you know, kiss me." Then she turned away from him in that kind of shy schoolgirl way young girls have of covering how much more worldly they are than they appear.
The evening was suspenseful for both of them. Mary ruled out shop talk, then they found it hard to make the kind of small talk one is apt to make on a first date. Finally, they decided they had to kiss before they could feel comfortable enough to decide where this relationship would lead.
And they both started to giggle in the middle of their kiss.
"That was really silly kissing you," Lou said with a grin.
"That turned out to be just so dumb!" Mary replied.
They both concluded that it wasn't going to work.
So they said "Good night" — to the date, that is — then sat down to finish their dinner — and talk shop.
It probably is true that the best romantic relationships start as friendships. But after a certain amount of time, as Lou and Mary learned on this night in 1977, good friends should probably just remain good friends.