7 Life Lessons From The Mary Tyler Moore Show

by Kelly Collette

I used to lay in my sister’s bed and watch re-runs of The Mary Tyler Moore Show on Nick at Nite. It was in the ’90s and I had yet to reach my 10th birthday. I remember thinking, I can’t believe women would wear so much orange! I also remember thinking, Mary Richards is the coolest woman on the planet.

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I used to lay in my college dorm bed and watch Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion on my laptop. It was the 2000s and I had yet to reach my 20th birthday. I remember thinking “I’m the Mary and you’re the Rhoda” was one of the best lines ever written. I also remember thinking, I don’t know which character is actually better, how is this even an insult?


I now lay in the bed of the house I own and watch clips of The Mary Tyler Moore Show on YouTube. It’s January 25, 2017, the day Mary Tyler Moore has died, and I am 30, the age Mary Richards was when she moved to Minneapolis to start work at WJM. I think this show was a revolution, and still incredibly significant for today.

For those fans of TMTMS, and for those who have yet to see it and are planning their Hulu binge-watch (as you should!), here are some things I want us “Mary’s” to remember.

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1. You’re a pioneer 

Mary Richards was American television’s first central female character that was career-driven and had never been married. The show addressed topics that were taboo to air at the time, like equal pay, homosexuality, birth control, addiction, sex and divorce. Finally, there was a character women could see themselves in, talking about issues they were having, too. Even though it’s been 47 years since the first episode aired, I relate more to Mary Richards then any character in the cast of Girls.

If you’re the Mary, remember that it’s important to say what you think, even if no one else is talking about it. Chances are, they are all nodding along with you wanting to hear more.

2. You’re influential

Popular MTMS characters got their own spin-off shows, including Rhoda, Phyllis and Lou Grant. Shows like Friends and 30 Rock have given The Mary Tyler Moore Show credit for influencing their show dynamics. And having won 29 Emmys, I guess I can just assume any show after 1970 was like, “Yeah… let’s just do it like that.” Also, add Betty White.

If you’re the Mary, people will want to follow the lead that you set. Make it a good one!


3. Don’t dim your light for anyone

In one of the most famous lines of the show, Mary’s boss Lou tells her, “You got spunk, Mary!” He smiles. She smiles too. “I HATE spunk!” he exclaims, and the laugh track continues for days. Despite the not-so-great first impression she makes, Mary proves herself to her boss, her news team, and to her herself by not changing a damn thing about her personality, and winning everyone over anyway. Even Rhoda hated Mary when she first moved into her apartment, but Mary’s charm and positivity did not waiver. Be yourself.

4. Don’t give up

Throughout the series, Mary dates, but remains mostly single and focused on her career. In one episode, she calculated that since she began dating at 17, she probably had gone on 2000 dates, and about only 10% of them were good. And still, she doesn’t get discouraged. In another episode, she demanded equal pay for her job, and got it. Later, she got a promotion. I know it is just a show and in real life, things don’t always have a happy ending. However, she never accepted the outcome of a situation as its final resting place. Keep going out. Keeping doing your best. Keep asking and keep proving yourself right. Marys do not give up.

Mary Tyler Moore

5. There will always be “those people”

The real world is filled with difficult people, and Mary’s was no different. If there was ever a lesson in brushing your shoulders off, Mary was the teacher. Be it Ted Baxter, the idiotic news anchor who took all the credit and accolades; or Sue Ann, whose ability to throw shade equaled that of a skyscraper, Mary was surrounded by people who seemed like they were put on Earth just to make her life harder. Still, she balanced the trouble with both respect for them and respect for herself. It’s one of the hardest lessons, but you can’t control other people. You also can’t choke them. So, it’s best to be nice when you can stomach it to do so.

6. Love is all around, no need to waste it

“Thank you for being my family,” Mary cries on the last episode. The honest friendships between the women shown on the show were actually reflective of what happens when you choose your friends, and not just the ones assigned to you by your partner like on other shows. Her friendships with her coworkers were that of authentic appreciation. Marys always show the love, and are not afraid to cry. Don’t waste it!

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7. You’re going to make it after all

Mary did a lot wrong, but she did even more right. Crying at work, messing up, arguments with friends, questionable fashion choices — these just showed how human she really was. Every mistake is room for growth and is leading you where you need to be. Keep trusting yourself, Marys. If ever you are in doubt, just throw your hat in the air. It’ll project a level of confidence. You got this.


Photos: Mary Tyler Moore Show

More from BUST

Looking Back At Mary Tyler Moore’s Legacy

Carol Channing: ‘How Could I Possibly Have Regrets?’

The Secret History Of Women In Television

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Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

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