‘Mary Tyler Moore Show’ Storyline Was Adjusted Due to Concerns About a ‘Dick Van Dyke Show’ Storyline

by Atlanta Northcutt

Let’s test your knowledge on the beloved Mary Tyler Moore Show. Did you know the plot was changed in order to not disrupt the storyline behind The Dick Van Dyke Show?

During an interview with Television Academy Interviews, the late Mary Tyler Moore explains how the CBS network was not happy with the idea of having her character be divorced due to her role as Laura on The Dick Van Dyke Show.

Mary Richards vs. Laura Petrie

Mary Tyler Moore played Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show. Van Dyke’s character is Rob Petrie, and Laura is his wife. According to Mary, she and the creators of The Mary Tyler Moore Show agree that it would be best for her to play someone who has a personality that is similar to hers. Her new character is Mary Richards, a 30-something single woman.

“I think from my experience on The Dick Van Dyke Show that it’s smart for me to play somebody who’s close to my own persona,” says Moore. “I don’t have to create a character and then try to match that character week after week falsely. They agreed with that.”

Mary Tyle Moore explains that the show’s creators, James L. Brooks and Allan Burns, and herself began thinking of what her profession could be and where she’d work at. Her character Laura on The Dick Van Dyke Show played a housewife, mother, former U.S.O. dancer, and then at one point a writer, who shows a great deal of potential, making her professional TV writer husband feel a little uncomfortable. They decided to go with the final one.

CBS Changed Mary Tyler Moore’s Character As A Divorcee

“The creators decided that she works at a small television station and that she’s looking to be married, but she’s not desperate about it,” explains Moore. “I said that sounds good too. I like that because that’s kind of progressive. Then they said, ‘and we think she’s probably coming off a divorce. She had lived in Roseville, Minnesota, and then, she moves to Minneapolis.'”

Apparently, CBS, the network the show would air on, was not happy with that storyline.

“As soon as they heard that they hit the ceiling,” she says. “They said ‘you can’t have married and divorced somebody even if she does have a different last name. They’re going to think she divorced Dick Van Dyke so that can’t happen.'”

The network changes the relationship situation into an odd storyline so that divorce has no involvement in the show. Instead, Mary Richards supports her fiance while he’s in medical school studying to be a doctor. However, the obviously horrible fiance breaks up with Mary after he starts his practice.

“He turned around and dumped me after he set up practice, which I found terribly distasteful, but apparently CBS thought that preferable to being divorced,” Moore says while laughing.

How Did Moore Separate Her New Character from Laura?

So, what are all the changes that ensure Mary Richards doesn’t appear to be Laura Petrie from The Dick Van Dyke Show?

“It was very complicated,” she says. Moore then begins laughing as she explains, “I wore a wig. The first year of the show I have this luminous, long brown hair because always on the Van Dyke Show I just wore it short and in that flip. That was the only thing I could think of to make her separate from Laura Petry was to have her hair grow,” she says while continuously giggling at recalling her attempts to hide her character.

In the second year, Mary Tyler Moore became more confident and had grown into being the star of her own show.

“I guess I got a little more confident that I had some identity other than Laura’s,” she says. “Then I went back to just wearing my own hair, but if you see any of those early episodes from the first year you’ll see that I don’t feel comfortable turning my head at all because of this wig.”

The Mary Tyler Moore Show became a chance for the actress and woman to find herself and her identity outside of her former role as Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show.