9 overlooked shows produced by MTM Enterprises
Mary Tyler Moore also gave Luke Skywalker, Leif Garrett and Letterman their big breaks.
The death of Mary Tyler Moore is a crushing loss for the world of television. Certainly, we all love and remember her as Mary Richards and Laura Petrie, but the sitcom legend was a major force behind the camera, too.
Her MTM Enterprises produced dozens of forward-thinking series, beginning with her own Mary Tyler Moore Show. The Bob Newhart Show followed, as well as a handful of brilliant Mary Tyler Moore Show spin-offs like Rhoda and Lou Grant.
In the following decades, MTM Enterprises delivered fantastic sitcoms such as WKRP in Cincinatti and Newhart, as well as gripping, influential dramas like Hill Street Blues and St. Elsewhere. Who could forget that adorable cat, Mimsie, meowing in the MTM logo after the credits rolled?
In between those highlights were a score of overlooked comedies and dramas. Her company's programs gave some big names their breaks, and broke boundaries. Here are some MTM shows you might not remember.
1. The Texas Wheelers
Before he became Luke Skywalker, Mark Hamill starred in this, the third series from MTM, following Mary Tyler Moore and The Bob Newhart Show. The comedy premiered in September 1974, weeks before Hamill turned 23. It was a flop. Despite its failure, there are reasons to remember the show. The John Prine theme song, "Illegal Smile," is a great downbeat cowboy tune, with the fantastic line, "Bowl of oatmeal tried to stare me down / And won." Hamill played Doobie, the younger brother of Gary Busey's character, Truckie. In the second episode, Doobie checks out an X-rated film, is repulsed by it, and seeks the advice of Busey. Luke Skywalker and Gary Busey talking the birds and bees in cowboy hats. How could that not click. The series was canceled two episodes later, as The Rockford Files drubbed it in the ratings. Check out 12 other pre–Star Wars roles by Hamill.
2. The Bob Crane Show
Hogan's Heroes headliner Bob Crane attempted a comeback in a series he described as a "hard comedy." The sitcom about an over-the-hill insurance salesman who enters medical school had unfortunate luck, as the FCC instituted its Prime Time Access Rule, which limited the amount of programming networks could air in primetime. Thus, The Bob Crane show was delayed, retooled and started off on the wrong foot.
3. Three for the Road
MTM's first hour-long drama is best known for giving the world Lief Garrett. The actor was just 13 years old at the time, and the short-run series launched his career as a teen idol. Young girls swooned for the kid traveling America in an RV with his dad and brother. A flood of fan mail led to spreads in Tiger Beat.
4. The Tony Randall Show
MTM was fond of giving TV stars new vehicles, like this sitcom for the former half of The Odd Couple. Randall played a widowed judge in Philly. The series is notable for giving Michael Keaton one of his earliest credits, as the future Batman appeared in a couple episodes as "Zeke."
5. The Betty White Show
The beloved TV veteran again received her own show after the success of Mary Tyler Moore. On The Betty White Show, White played Joyce Whitman, an actress who lands her dream role only to find out her ex-husband is directing the project. The Betty White Show only lasted one season in 1977 due to stiff competition from Monday Night Football. We love the opening credits sequence, which depicts White as an action hero.
6. The White Shadow
The most well-known and successful series on this list, The White Shadow nevertheless remains, well, overshadowed by MTM series like Hill Street Blues and Rhoda. It was just as groundbreaking and important. Before Friday Night Lights, there was The White Shadow. From 1978 to 1981, the high school basketball drama dealt with serious issues in the guise of a sports soap opera. The series meant a lot to many people. According to The New York Times, it even helped popularize the sport of basketball in Turkey. The MTM productions remains one of the longest-running dramas with a predominantly black cast.
Mary attempted a comeback with this eponymous sketch-variety series. It was an unmitigated failure, lasting a mere three episodes. Still, it was important, as it gave cast member David Letterman his first regular television role. He would go on to appear in subsequent The Mary Tyler Moore Hour.
8. Carlton Your Doorman
The obscure cartoon might be the ultimate Mary Tyler Moore Show trivia question, as it was a spin-off of the spin-off Rhoda. On Rhoda, Carlton the Doorman was heard but never fully seen (only bits and pieces of him, rarely). This animated pilot aimed to explore his life. However, it was not picked up as a series and aired just once.
9. Beverly Hill Buntz
MTM was always rethinking the spin-off. The production company bravely bucked expectations. Lou Grant could have easily been another office comedy, but the series dove into serious drama about journalism, and made Ed Asner the only actor to be nominated for both Drama and Comedy Emmys playing the same character. Buntz was sort of the inverse, as it took Dennis Franz's Norman Buntz character from Hill Street Blues and moved him to a comedic setting in sunny California.