Still, workplaces were dominated by men.
So when Mary Tyler Moore's character Mary Richards, single and 30, moved to Minneapolis and started working as associate producer at the WJM-TV, she did something that no female character on television had done before. The creators James L. Brooks and Allan Burns originally pitched Mary as a recent divorcée, but the research department at CBS wouldn't have it. "America audiences won't tolerate divorce in a series' lead any more than they will tolerate Jews, people with mustaches, and people who live in New York." So Brooks and Burns compromised—Mary would be coming out of a long relationship with a man she supported through medical school. (The show's other characters, however, broke all the rules: Rhoda Morgenstern is Jewish, from New York; Lou Grant divorces his wife; Ted Knight grows a mustache.) It's implied, although never explicitly stated, that Mary had been "living in sin" with her beau, which was just acceptable enough to pass.
Still, The Mary Tyler Moore Show was off to a precarious start: Network execs doubted it would succeed, the first taping of the pilot was a disaster, critics slammed it, and it was originally slotted at the worst possible time (competing against the Don Knotts Show). Time magazine called the show a "disaster," and the St. Petersburg Times pronounced Mary a "spinster."
But it wasn't long before the country started falling in love with the girl "who could turn the world on with her smile," as the theme song announced. More women entering the workplace saw Mary as a role model, envying her cozy apartment and vibrant friendships. The show moved away from the domestic sphere, featuring a woman in an office. It was one of the first to explicitly call a male character gay and to mention the Pill. But one of the show's greatest strengths, Armstrong rightfully notes, was its subtlety. The show was able to push boundaries by filling the cast with cynical, hardened characters like Lou and Rhoda so that Mary "seems especially wholesome when contrasted with those around her," Armstrong writes. Mary "represented 'good girls' and had a sense of vulnerability," which is the "secret to her unique power." The "producers learned to skillfully walk a line between innuendo and explicitness that often allowed them to push boundaries while acting innocent—a reflection, perhaps, of their main character herself."
Moore, in her own life, straddled that line cautiously. Although a successful actress and co-founder of MTM Productions—director Allan Rafkin recalls "you never forgot for a second that she was in charge"—she didn't call herself a feminist. And Gloria Steinem and other women's rights advocates criticized Richards for not being vocal enough. She was the only one at work who didn't call her boss "Lou," referring to him as "Mr. Grant." And she wasn't given the kind of duties at work that she was capable of. Even her plea for equal pay came off as less than assertive. And the theme song referred to a "girl," not a woman.