Today one of television’s pioneers passed into immortality, Mary Tyler Moore. I had done a few years ago a tribute for her birthday, so I decided to think about what she has meant to me and what contribution she has given to television and to women themselves. Mary was one of the very first independent career women. She had played a loving housewife in “The Dick Van Dyke Show” as Laura Petrie and made a large leap for women at that time as well. She was the first female television character who wore pants on screen. Those tight capri pants were all hers.
Mary Richards was a true pioneer. Prior to her there was no women on television that were not mothers or housewifes. Marlo Thomas as Ann Marie was also one of those pioneer gals because she would move into New York to make it as an actress. She also took a bunch of crazy jobs while she struggled like most actresses do. Unfortunately for us, the last we ever saw of her was that Donald proposed and she accepted. We never got to see if Ann turned him down for Hollywood or gave it all up for a home in Tarrytown.
Of course, Nichelle Nichols was a pioneer carrying two banners. She was the first African American woman who had a lead on a major network television show that wasn’t a maid or domestic. She also beat those “Lost in Space” chicks by one year. Many a middle aged man’s fantasies began with Lt Uhura on “Star Trek”
Mary had a bff who was another career gal. It was her friend, Rhoda. Rhoda was artistic and a fun gal. She was also every woman because she griped about her weight next to a perfect Mary. She made us realize for the first time that not every woman was perfect. Her pride and joy was her window displays and we loved her hair wraps and bohemian looks.
The next woman to try to make it as a career woman was Loretta Swit of M*A*S*H* . Her Margaret Houlighan started out as bitchy “Hot Lips” Houlighan but matured with the help of her nurses to become the compassionate Army Major who had managed to make the Army a career . Her nursing skills helped her to attain the rank of Major in the Army and in the forties and fifties, that was indeed a rare thing.
They weren’t secretaries , or waitresses , or shop girls, they were just two plain old bottle cappers from Milwaukee . Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams were the two girls who liked to vo-de-do and just have fun in the late fifties,” Laverne and Shirley “
Linda Lavin was a divorced mother who took her son and headed for Hollywood with her talent. She drove from New Jersey to Phoneix where her car died and she decided to settle down. Her whole life was the diner where she worked on “Alice.” The show also ushered in the feistiest female on tv to date and that was her best friend “Flo” played by Polly Holiday. She would think nothing at all to yell at their boss , Mel to “Kiss my grits.”(I got a lot of abuse in junior high because my name is Melanie)
The eighties were the era of the nighttime soaps and the first female villains. It was an era of big shoulders and big broads. Jane Wyman carried the banner as one of the bad girls of this era as Angela Channing on “Falcon Crest” . Angela was a vintner in the Napa Valley who would do anything to save her family and her wine. I mean anything.She also cemented her place in history by being the ex wife of President Ronald Reagan
Cybill Shepherd was the ultimate career gal as model turned detective Madeline “Maddie” Hayes on “Moonlighting.” Her partner, David traded barbs and had smart conversations. Ultimately he won her over, but he could never break her spirit. She was still the strong , career woman with the detective agency , even when she was with him.
Linda Bloodworth Thompson was a pioneer herself. She had first made her mark in television with an award winning M*A*S*H*script called “The Nurses.” She also created an early tv series that was a spoof of the era of “Dallas” called “Filthy Rich” Two of the female stars of the show would bring Thompson fame for her story of four smart career women and forever broke the stereotype of dumb Southern women with the classic “Designing Women.” Here is the late Dixie Carter, Delta Burke, Jean Smart, and the secretary of the real “Ghostbusters.” Annie Potts.
Diane English broke more female ground as she created the ball busting, alcoholic, Murphy Brown.” Murphy Brown” as played by Candice Bergen, was a serious journalist who worked on a 60 minutes type show called “FYI” . She was a pioneer in her field in the same way as Barbara Walters. Murphy was also the first working woman mother on television and took a lot of flack for it since she had no desire to get married when she had her baby. Murphy also had a special guest on her pilot show that viewers would recognize as a young Tony Goldwyn from “Scandal”
“FRIENDS” brought three girls together as they dealt with careers and men. The actresses themselves made their way into pop culture and exploded along with the male actors of the show into superstardom . The sexy sextet were the creation of another female writer Marta Kaufman. The break out star of the show was Jennifer Aniston and her hair do the Rachel was the do everyone wanted. Rachel was a career gal who started out as a waitress and ended up being hired by Louis Vuitton and moving to Paris . She never made it because she chose Love over career and got off the plane.
Another career gal was Jewish interior decorator , Grace Adler on “Will and Grace” . Debra Messing also was the first fag “hag” or “fruit fly” on television. Grace had decided that if she couldn’t get a man , she would settle into life with her gay best friend.
“ER” was another show that was busting through all sorts of stereotypes. One of the biggest was when one of the actresses had made a name for herself as a director as well. Linda Gray had directed on “Dallas” but was dismissed shortly after.Laura Innes continues to direct as well today on shows such as “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” , “The West Wing” and “Scandal” Her character , Dr Kerry Weaver also was a woman who was crippled and also the head of the ER
Shonda Rhimes was the next power broker and was the first woman to have her shows dominate an entire night of prime time television. Her Shondaland had a wealth of powerful and strong women in all of her series. The first show was “Grey’s Anatomy” which was the story of one Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) whose mother was the first woman surgeon and pioneer that she could never feel like she would ever be as good as her. Her best friend was also a rock star in the OR Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh) . Their teacher was another powerful woman who would be another woman director on the show (Chandra Wilson) The surgeons worked and loved in the hospital where on call rooms became passion pits .
For the first time in almost fifty years, an African American female was a lead character in prime time. Washington fixer, Judy Smith was the co producer of this series about a Washington DC fixer who helped create a President, with one small catch, the candidate was stuck in a loveless marriage for power and fell madly in love with his campaign manager. Kerry Washington is Olivia Pope and has won acclaim for her portrayal as well. Bellamy Young and Kate Burton have also made their marks as women who make runs for the White House as America’s first female President.
Viola Davis had made her mark as a movie star. She as of this date is the first African American woman with three Oscar nominations. She also received a star on the Walk of Fame. But the role that has launched her into the tv stratosphere is law professor Analise Keating on another one of Shonda’s shows “How to Get Away with Murder” . She was also the first African American woman to win an Emmy for leading lady in a drama series.
Stana Katic is the bad ass Capt Kate Beckett on “Castle” Kate was a detective who was on a case based on a mystery novel.She asked for help on the case from the author who turned out to have a flare with crime himself. He asked his friend , the Mayor if he could shadow the detective. From there a romance blossomed.
Taraji P Henson is the career woman who sacrificed for her man. Came back from prison and fought for her stake in the family business. Today Loretha or “Cookie” is the diva of “Empire” music .
Emily Deschnel is also a pioneer as an anthropologist who studies bones to solve crimes on “Bones.” As Temperance Brennan , she works for the Smithsonian who sometimes helps the FBI. One of these times , she managed to meet the man who would become the love of her life. Today Emily and Booth (David Borreanz) solve crimes and raise their daughter and son.
Kara came from Krypton with her cousin who would be known as Superman. The cousin would make it to Earth , but Kara was lost in the Phantom Zone. Decades later, her cousin found her and brought her to settle in on Earth. Since there was already a superhero, she felt the need to hide her powers. Well with all the evil in the world and evil aliens, Kara decides that it is time to show the world that she is indeed Supergirl. Like the ever popular Lois Lane, Supergirl’s alter ego also works as a reporter. Melissa Benoit is “Supergirl.”
And finally wrapping things up, Rayna James had made a career as the sweetheart of country music. She started that meteoric climb with her partner , Deacon Claybourne. Deacon and her eventually fell in love . Unfortunately it was not a happy ending because Deacon became an alcoholic with all the pressure of the road. When she found out she was pregnant , Deacon crashed and she needed a hand so she married another man that she stayed with for twenty years. Finally her and Deacon reconciled and he found out her oldest daughter was his. Teddy and Rayna divorced and today Deacon and Rayna are married. Connie Britton is producer and also Rayna James on “Nashville” on CMT.