How the 'Mary Tyler Moore Show' tackled one of TV's biggest taboos
Never before had death been so funny.
Before October 25, 1975, one of television's biggest taboos had rarely been talked about. But after that day, the television landscape changed forever with an episode comically titled, "Chuckles Bites the Dust."
While The Mary Tyler Moore Show was groundbreaking in its own right, this episode in particular shed new light on how television shows could deal with death without being too depressing.
In "Chuckles Bites the Dust," written by David Lloyd, the whole newsroom is stunned to learn their colleague Chuckles the Clown was killed rather tragically in a parade (he was stomped to death by an elephant while wearing a peanut costume). It takes a while for the news to sink in, but once it does, the newsroom can't help but crack jokes while remembering Chuckles.
The episode was recognized by critics as one of the most groundbreaking in television history. Lloyd won an Emmy Award for "Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series," and in 1997, TV Guide ranked it No. 1 on its list of the 100 greatest TV episodes of all time.
"Chuckles Bites the Dust" proves a show isn't only groundbreaking for what it does, but how the characters react to it. That's something today's TV shows should pay attention to. The episode didn't show the death of Chuckles, but rather how the newsroom responded to it. There is no universal way to grieve, and any situation can be comical if we look on the bright side.
Lou Grant says it best, "We laugh at death because we know death will have the last laugh on us."