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''Mary Tyler Moore'' is back -- thank God

”Mary Tyler Moore” is back — thank God. Ken Tucker explains what to expect from the reunion show, and what made the series great

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Mary Tyler Moore, The Mary Tyler Moore Show
The Mary Tyler Moore Show: CBS Photo Archives

”Mary Tyler Moore” is back — thank God

After Mary Tyler Moore had costarred as the capri-pantsed wife Laura Petrie on ”The Dick Van Dyke Show,” few in the TV industry saw her as the star of her own show. She wasn’t a pratfalling comic the way Van Dyke or Lucille Ball were; neither did she have the harmless-housewife image that made viewers fond of, say, Florence Henderson on ”The Brady Bunch.”

Yet it was the vulnerability Moore displayed as a suburban homemaker on Van Dyke’s show that, when combined with a good dollop of the now-famous ”spunk,” turned ”The Mary Tyler Moore Show” into something close to revolutionary, in sitcom terms: A portrait of a single career-woman who found her family amongst those she worked with — in this case, the mixed nuts of Minneapolis news station WJM.

On Monday, May 13, CBS offers us ”The Mary Tyler Moore Reunion.” Sure, the network is hoping to capitalize on its recent success with its Carol Burnett reunion, but in this case, exploiting a successful idea will probably yield nothing but pleasure. Who among us isn’t curious to tune in and see Moore reminisce with Ed Asner (her character’s crusty boss Lou Grant), Valerie Harper (Mary Richards’ best chum Rhoda), Gavin MacLeod (Murray, the dyspeptic newswriter), Betty White (smiley, cutthroat Sue Ann Nivens), and Cloris Leachman (Mary’s perrennially high-strung landlady Phyllis)?

The only key player missing is, of course, that grand comic creation — Ted Knight’s pompous-dolt anchor, Ted Baxter. Knight died in 1986, but the show will doubtless pay suitable tribute to his witty embodiment of strutting stupidity.

It’s hard to believe that Moore is now 65; in our collective memory, she remains the earnest, cheerful young woman throwing her hat up into the air at the start of each ”MTM” episode — a gesture of hope, trust, and ebullience that also suffused her classic TV series from 1970-77. (Just think: There used to be really good sitcoms to watch on Saturday nights, like ”MTM” and ”The Bob Newhart Show.” They don’t make Saturdays like they used to.)

I’m sure we’ll see ”MTM” touchstone moments like the death of Chuckles the Clown, but I also hope we get to see a lot of good scenes featuring MTM herself — Moore was such a generous performer, she sometimes became the straight-woman to her gifted cast, and now she deserves recognition for her own ability to deliver sharp punchlines, throw a funny hissy-fit, do a nifty double-take, and somehow manage to be funny and sexy simultaneously.

In 1993, Entertainment Weekly made ”The Mary Tyler Moore Show” number one on our list of ”the 101 most important prime-time TV shows of the past.” Here’s hoping ”The Mary Tyler Moore Reunion” proves that we were right.