Classic television writers loved watching their fellow creators' shows as much as viewers did
Picture every show on network television in the 1970s getting together for one big sleepover.
You might think that with so many popular television shows in the 1970s, it might have fostered a bit of competition between writers and creators between shows, with each series struggling to become the top of the lineup.
Well, you may be disappointed, but most likely relieved, that you're only a little bit wrong. It turned out that many television creators still kept up as students themselves, and delighted in enjoying their potential competitions' content, rather than seeing them as a potential threat. In Ronald Brownstein's book, Rock Me On The Water, Rob Reiner said of the rush of new and exciting television in the 1970s, "There was a big wave of sophistication that happened, and we felt connected to everybody."
In an interview with the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Foundation, Norman Lear described Larry Gelbart of M*A*S*H as "perhaps the greatest wit" he had known. In addition, James L. Brooks of The Mary Tyler Moore Show said that the show's team watched the Saturday CBS lineup together as viewers and fans alike. He said, "We'd get in front of the television like America did. Watch it straight through." Brooks called special attention to All in the Family and added, "We used to sit and watch 'All in the Family'...it was groundbreaking and it was great."
Reiner, obviously known for playing Mike in All in the Family, is quoted in the book praising The Mary Tyler Moore Show. He said, "It was just really, really funny." That being said, it wasn't all love all of the time between these shows. Brooks had compared the experience of fellow shows to be "competition, fraternity, all that." He also added, "We all wanted to be the best." But perhaps it was precisely because each show's team wanted to be the best that they found themselves gravitating toward the television set to watch their potential competition, understanding that the talent that they saw on and off the screen would be a welcome learning experience in how they should go about strengthening their own show.