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Production Companies
September / October 2011
(revised 11/17/14)
(revised 1/29/17)


Production Compaines - Profiles:
* (July, 2011) The Desilu Story
* (May, 2011) The First Artists Story




THE MTM STORY-
REEL 2 REAL EMPOWERMENT


by CEJ








     Can a single film or television show influence the course of a generation - a fictitious film or show that is, created primarily as a source of entertainment?  At the very least, in the right time and place, and with a planetary-alignment-like confluence of ingredients (a mysterious combination of cast, crew, intent and social context of the day) a single film or show can speak for and to an entire generation.  And as one generation of artists and creators takes inspiration from the previous, so does that “speaking for and to” reverberate over the years; the voice slightly altering it‘s pitch, tone and accent depending on the popular media “language” of the day - be it music, visual arts or film. 





     Such was the case with REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955) encapsulating the angst of a Baby Boomer generation painfully aware the “Ozzie & Harriet” American Dreams of their parents weren’t’ necessarily all they were advertised.  
In similar fashion THE GRADUATE and EASY RIDER would speak for and to the disillusionment of the youths of the 1960s.  NETWORK’s 1970’s social war cry “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” would solidify / galvanize the decade-long post Watergate, media-saavy sentiments of an entire distrusting population.  And even later, STAR WARS’ classical heroism would be embraced by the children of the post-Watergaters as they rebelled against what they perceived to be their parents’ social cynicism.  Such was the ultimately surprising case of a (what many took it at the time to be) "frothy little sitcom" called THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW shortly after it's debut on CBS in September 1970.



THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW: Season 1 Opening re-imagined


(:57)
 



 

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      Created by it’s “America’s Sweetheart” star and a small cadre who'd later become industry titans (among them future NBC mogul Grant Tinker and TERMS OF ENDEARMENT Oscar winner James L. Brooks) it was on the surface a breezy half-hour laugh fest about a recently separated 30-something woman who at home navigated the 70s singles scene with her female companions, and at work sought to make way in a male dominated TV newsroom.  In time it would (to the surprise of it’s creators) become a symbol of female empowerment and a lightning rod in the 1970s ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) movement - with feminist activist Gloria Steinam herself even asking the show’s star to appear with her on Capital Hill. 



     It would lead to the establishment of the production company MTM ENTERPRISES - creators of the multi ethnic and strong female lead series THE WHITE SHADOW, WKRP IN CICINATTI,  HILL ST. BLUES and ST. ELSEWHERE.  And it would influence a long line of female driven, gender empowering workplace comedy/dramas for the next 40 years - among them MURPHY BROWN, ALLY McBEAL and even more explicit, hard edged cable fare such as SEX AND THE CITY, UNITED STATES OF TARA, SECRET DIARY OF A CALL GIRL and THE BIG “C”.  Before THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW could do any of this however, it would have to scale a mountain of obstacles - chief among them a lack of faith from it’s own network who attempted to bury the program before it's premiere.





POWER TO THE PEOPLE


                                                                                           Activists Gloria Steinam & Dorthy Pitman Hughes


     The definition of “empowerment” has changed over the last 40 years … at least in popular media.  During the 1960s and 70s, GLORIA STEINAM’s early stance on abortion rights, along with essays such as “After Black Power, Women’s Liberation”, were lauded as early catalysts helping propel the concept of female self-empowerment and the gender equality movement to the forefront of public debate.  And while Cosmopolitan Magazine editor-in-chief Helen Gurley Brown’s assertion that women of the same era could have it all “love, sex and money”, would lead to such driven, glamorous and career-minded women to be somewhat disparagingly referred to as “Cosmo Girls”, the world still couldn’t deny her conceptual influence on the decade’s notion of “sexual revolution”. 


     During the 1980s, 90s and into the new millennium (as evidenced in a slew of music videos and the popularity of shows like THE SIMPLE LIFE, THE REAL HOUSEWIVES and KEEPING UP WITH THE KARDASHIANS ) things would change from “inner strength and self respect which positively influences one’s surroundings” to the more contemporary notion of “having power” and “being the one on top” … often regardless of how one gets there; the “getting“ being the important aspect of the scenario.  It's been argued that this more modern conceit of societal and economic “one-ups-manship” (which often uses sexuality as the primary force in games of “power-player-pecking-order”) has little to do with anything gender empowerment related, but merely falsely and hypocritically proceeds under said banner. 


  NBC's THE PLAYBOY CLUB (debut Sept. 19,2011)


     Steinam herself would draw attention to this more “modern definition” in early August 2011, while expressing hope TV audiences would boycott NBC’s Fall 2011 series THE PLAYBOY CLUB.  Whereas in a period-set show like AMC’s MAD MEN (populated by the misogynistic alpha-males of the Sterling Cooper ad agency), the characters of Peggy Olson - the firm‘s first female copywriter (Elizabeth Moss) and Joan Holloway (Christina Hendricks) - the unspoken brains behind the whole operation , advance via their smarts and determination, PLAYBOY CLUB’s titillating ad campaign promises a place (a fiction set in Heff’s first Chicago nightclub locale) where the bunny waitress / hostesses use the power of the sexual angle (fantasy or otherwise) to gain personal and societal high ground. 


     NBC entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt called his show “a really fun soap opera” while series producer Chad Hodge claimed it was about “… who these women can be, and how they can use the club to be anyone they want”.  Audiences however didn't bite, and THE PLAYBOY CLUB shut it's doors (so to speak) after only three episodes - the first cancellation of NBC's 2011 season.





Steinam's Playboy Club undercover journalism expose - 1963 

     Steinam's displeasure with the show's fanciful depiction of how "these women can use the club to be anyone they want" stemmed from the fact that she’d herself gone undercover as a Club bunny for a 1963 magazine expose’ detailing the “expectations vs. real life questionable conditions” for women employed there, many taking the job simply to make ends meet during difficult financial times. 


     Over the years she’d also be told innumerable horror stories by former Club and Mansion girls of duties they were expected to perform “above and beyond the call”.  She therefore felt re-imagining that era and setting as a “fun soap” was more than a little disturbing and perhaps sent the wrong message to a generation of young women.  














                                       


DICK VAN DYKE, ...  AND THE OTHER WOMAN:
 



     Born in the Brooklyn Heights section of New York in December of 1936, MARY TYLER MOORE would attend numerous Catholic elementary and high schools before and after her family moved to Los Angeles in 1944.  Desiring a dancing career her first gig at age 17 was as toe-shuffling elf “Happy Hotpoint” in a series of Hotpoint Appliance ads running during the popular OZZIE AND HARRIET television series.  She’d later audition for the part of Danny Thomas’ older daughter on the entertainer’s long running sitcom, but was turned down because her nose was too small for her to convincingly be Thomas’ offspring with “that huge schnoz” the popular comedian possessed.  Over the years Moore would essay small parts and guest bits in popular series like OVERLAND TRAIL, 77 SUNSET STRIP, Steve McQueen’s WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE, John Cassevettes’ JOHNNY STACCATO, and most memorably RICHARD DIAMOND: PRIVATE DETECTIVE - where only her shapely legs and sexy voice were seen and heard as the mysterious secretary/receptionist to David Jansen’s hard boiled noir gumshoe.  


  Moore & Tinker - 1960s

    
     GRANT ALMERIN TINKER  was born in Stamford, CT in January, 1926, and determining not to follow in the footsteps of his lumber supplier father, attended Dartmouth College, then at age 23 became a management trainee at NBC.  Over the years in numerous production positions at Universal, 20th Century Fox and elsewhere, he’d gain the unique reputation as not necessarily a creative person, but as (according to Kay Cardella in a 1981 New York Daily News article) “… an executive with a deep appreciation for creative people”.  This more than ever would come to define him and eventually MTM over the years.  In 1961 however he was an executive with the Benton & Bowles advertising agency which represented the sponsor of a new prime time sitcom entitled THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW.
 

      Loosely inspired by creator Carl Reiner’s own experiences as a sketch writer on Sid Caesar’s popular sitcom, THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW became an instant “out of the gate” hit for CBS with it’s October 3, 1961 debut episode “The Sick Boy And The Sitter”.  Actually filmed in January of that year (on the 20th - the day of John F. Kennedy’s Presidential inauguration in fact) Moore and Tinker - now a programming chief at rival network NBC, had since met and become “television’s golden couple”.  Moore was cast as Van Dyke’s zippy wife Laura Petrie on the recommendation of VAN DYKE SHOW producer Danny Thomas himself, who remembered her from years prior.  Moore received her first Emmy award, and she (along with her character’s tight Capri pants) was shot to international fame.
 

THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW (CBS, 1961 - '66)  

 
     From the get go Reiner had stated the show would run no longer than five years, and when the series ended it’s run in 1966 it had capped an astounding 15 Emmy wins.  In 2002 TV Guide would even list it as #13 on it’s list of the “50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time”.


     The remainder of the decade was a disappointment for Moore however as she found herself in a series of critically lambasted feature films - the two most prominent being Universal’s 1967 George Roy Hill (BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, THE STING) directed prohibition-era musical THOUROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE co-starring Julie Andrews, John Gavin and Carol Channing; and Elvis Presley’s 1969 drama CHANGE OF HABIT - wherein Elvis (tired of empty-headed rock and roll fare) portrayed ghetto doctor John Carpenter, who falls in love with inner city crusader Moore, unaware that she’s an urban missionary nun.




  CHANGE OF HABIT (1969)


     The last theatrical film of Presley’s career, HABIT (which was considered a Moore vehicle until the King was signed to play Carpenter) was also Moore’s final film under her contract to Universal.  In 1970, she re-teamed with Van Dyke for a one hour CBS comedy/variety special entitled “DICK VAN DYKE AND THE OTHER WOMAN”; it’s title a reference to how when checking into hotels, many patrons would be shocked to see Van Dyke with his actual (then) wife Margie Willett rather than with TV spouse Laura Petrie.  The special was a ratings hit, capturing a Neilson share of 30%, and CBS made Moore and Tinker the unprecedented offer of a thirteen episode guarantee for any series they wished to create.  The couple had long planned for such an opportunity, and one year prior had founded their production company MTM ENTERPRISES.










SOMETHING KNEW ...


      MTM’s logo, one of the most popular and well remembered in TV history, was of course a parody/rift on M-G-M’s iconic “Leo the Lion” maskot, only with a small meowing calico kitty (nicknamed “Mimsie”) taking Leo’s grand center seat position.   It was a fitting, if at the time unintentional, analogy to what would emerge as MTM’s “cinematic mission statement” - where behind the face of a non-threatening, humorously entertaining entity there would lurk the growl of an empowering social agenda.  Moore and Tinker’s new show would buck the tide of standard television fare even before making it to the airwaves as Tinker,  the “executive with a deep appreciation for creative people”, surprised everyone in bypassing standard sitcom writers of the day to hire relative unknowns JAMES L. BROOKS and ALAN BURNS as his show runners.


  James L. Brooks & Alan Burns - present
 


    In the late 1960s, as the Vietnam War and social protests of the era where nightly beamed into American living rooms, the TV public sought relief from light (even silly) fare such as THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES (1962 - ‘71), I DREAM OF JEANNIE (1965 - ‘70) and GREEN ACRES (1965 - ‘71).  But MTM didn’t want that. 


     They wanted funny to be sure, but with a little “real-world edge” tossed into the mix … like what they’d seen in ROOM 222 (1969 - ’74), the comedy/drama series Brooks and Burns had spearheaded at ABC.  Brooks would go on to create future series like TAXI, and be the creative force behind the future theatrical hits TERMS OF ENDEARMENT, BROADCAST NEWS and AS GOOD AS IT GETS.  But at this time he was better known (if known at all) for series like MY MOTHER THE CAR and David L. Wolper TV documentaries.  Burns was slightly more established, having begun in animation with Jay Ward on his popular ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE and GEORGE OF THE JUNGLE cartoons, then parlaying that into writing/producing gigs on THE MUNSTERS and GET SMART.  ROOM 222 was the “next level career launch pad“ for the both of them.





Cast of ROOM 222 (ABC, 1969 - '74)   

     Set in Los Angeles’ fictional Walt Whitman High School, it starred Lloyd Haynes as history teacher Pete Dixon, Denise Nicholas as guidance counselor Liz McIntyre, popular character actor Michael Constantine as Principal Seymour Kaufman, and perky Karen Valentine (on whom every guy in America between the ages of 12 and 112 had a bonafied red-blooded schoolboy crush) as student teacher Alice Johnson.  With Dixon’s class - the titular “Room 222", as the series’ center point, the stories (some humorous and others shining light on social issues of the day - the war, gender roles, teen pregnancy, etc.) would venture into the lives of various recurring characters on and off school grounds.


     While ROOM 222 had achieved a modicum of critical praise, including a trio of Emmys it’s freshman year, Brooks and Burns were at the time not the names they are today, and where still considered a risk by CBS with whom Moore and Tinker had their 13 episode guarantee.  The network, then under programming chief Mike Dann, wanted the writers fired.  More on that to come.
 

      Contrary to belief, there had already also been previous television series featuring (as Moore, Tinker, Brooks and Burns were conceiving for their new show) empowered single young women attempting to make it on her own.  In fact in recent years there had been two running concurrently on competing networks: THAT GIRL on ABC (1966 - ’71) and JULIA (1968 - ’71) on NBC.  The fanciful THAT GIRL (co-produced by series star Marlo Thomas and her father Danny Thomas) starred young Marlo as Anne Marie, an aspiring (but usually unemployed) actress come to New York to make it “in the biz”, but who more often than not finds daily comedic adventures engaged in temp jobs she has to take while making ends meet.  Somehow however she can still afford to live in a swanky Manhattan apartment while decking herself out in the most mod of 60’s fashions. 


  JULIA (NBC, 1968 - '71)

      The more realistic JULIA (one of the last shows to be greenlit under Grant Tinker while he was still NBC’s head of programming) starred African-American singer/actress Diahann Carroll (LADY SINGS THE BLUES, CLAUDINE, DYNASTY) as Julia Baker, a middle class widow (her soldier husband shot down in Vietnam) raising a son on her own while working as a nurse in a bustling city clinic run by Dr. Chegley (Lloyd Nolan).  While today considered a barrier-breaking trendsetter (for at the time no series had ever featured an African-American man or woman as it’s solo lead) the series at the time had it’s fair share of detractors … many from the African-American community itself. 


     In the midst of a sometimes violent civil rights struggle some felt Julia’s social status (as well as her apartment and wardrobe) was too much of a Hollywood fantasy.  The perspective of the time is understandable, but the truth is Julia lived (with her young son) in a very modest one bedroom apartment, and didn’t dress in anything above what you’d find at the local department store - and certainly nothing to the degree of THAT GIRL’s wardrobe.
 

     Many also forget how JULIA often dove into topical racial issues of the day.  In one episode in particular Chegley is ordered to downsize the clinic’s staff by removing all minority employees, and he defiantly keeps Julia because she’s the best - black or white.  And that was the key to the series, a key many missed at the time of it’s initial run.  JULIA wasn’t a show about an empowered black single mother making it on her own.  It was about an empowered woman struggling and succeeding on her own … and she also happened to be a single mother and black.

 Diahann Carroll's JULIA becomes a late 1960's
 empowerment role model to a generation of young girls


     As such, JULIA made subtle inroads into the hearts and minds of “on the fence” middle Americans of the day, those at the time of whom it could be said were suffering what singing group Public Enemy would one day call “Fear Of A Black Planet”.  JULIA helped them see the “same-ness” of her character’s experiences to their own regardless of race or gender, and it did it with refreshing humor and intelligence.  It was that kind of intelligent and empowering humor Moore and Tinker knew they wanted to repeat.





pg. 1,2,3














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