In an interview with Allan Burns, the co-creator for The Mary Tyler Moore Show, he reveals how the sitcom was born.
Allan Burns, who passed away two days ago, was known for his decorated career as a producer. He is the brain behind some classic hit shows, which include The Munsters, Rhonda, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. In an interview, the Emmy winning writer reveals how the seven-season show was brought together.
Allan Burns starts out by explaining his relationship with TV executive and NBC CEO Grant Tinker. The two became close friends. Tinker slowly started to introduce the idea of a multi-camera show with his then-wife, Mary Tyler Moore.
The thought of working for another multi-camera show did not sit well with Allan Burns. He remembers the terrible hours he suffered through the last time he worked on set. However, Tinker made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“That’s an awful lot of work when I did. It was pulling all-nighters. It’s a hard way to make a living, labor-intensive, long hours rewriting constantly. And I said, ‘I don’t know.’ I can remember the producers just throwing me their ideas about what was wrong with the script and going home and going out to dinner and then leaving it to us to fix it, and we’d be there two, three, or four in the morning, so I said, ‘I don’t know if I want to do it.’ He said, “but if you were the producer, you’d be making those calls.”
One day a fellow friend and producer came up to Allan Burns and told him what the series would be about.
“Jim said, ‘I just had a flash. I know what it’s about. Mary’s going to do a show. Mary’s going to do a new show. The Van Dyke Show is over’. Her movie career didn’t go anywhere, and she had this big smash hit special, which was called Dick Van Dyke and the Other Woman. It was an hour-long special with Dick and Mary reuniting them in a variety of different sketches and songs in numbers and everything. The show went through the roof, and CBS was nuts about the idea of getting Mary back on television for them.”
Grant Tinker and Allan Burns
The issue arose when Grant Tinker, who worked at Fox Studios at the time, was planning to do the show with CBS behind Fox’s back. Nevertheless, Tinker wanted Allan Burns to produce the show but had to remain somewhat ethical about the situation.
“There was something that Grant liked in the way we were working and what we were doing in Room 22 and that there was a foot in reality in that show that he sort of liked and he thought that Mary would respond to. So he sent us off to start to come up with ideas for the show. And we came up with awful, just awful ideas.”
In addition, after a few ideas that were shot down, Allan Burn came up with the idea that would be a hit. It was, winning twenty-nine Primetime Emmy Awards, as well as Outstanding Comedy Series three years in a row. Today, the Writer Guild of America ranks the Mary Tyler Moore Show high on their list. It comes in at number six on the “101 Best Written TV Series of All Time.”