Mary Tyler Moore, as Mary Richards, greeted Minneapolis with a toss of her headgear.
A reach for Kleenex as the newsroom gang said goodbye: Betty White, Gavin MacLeod, Ed Asner, Georgia Engel, Ted Knight and Mary Tyler Moore.
When The Mary Tyler Moore Show premiered in September 1970, few could have predicted that the sitcom — about an independent woman working in a Minneapolis newsroom — would inspire generations of girls to follow their dreams.
Some grew up to become television journalists like Moore's character, Mary Richards, who at the start of the show applies for a secretarial job, but ends up getting hired as associate producer of WJM's six o'clock news.
The series, created by James L. Brooks and Allan Burns, ran on CBS for seven seasons and won 29 Emmy Awards, including three consecutive (1975–77) for outstanding comedy series; Moore herself won three times as outstanding lead actress. It launched three spinoffs: Rhoda , Phyllis and Lou Grant.
With the 50th anniversary approaching, emmy contributor Paula Hendrickson asked some real-life TV newswomen what the show means to them. One of those journalists — the pioneering Andrea Mitchell — was breaking newsroom barriers back in the 1970s and is still working today.
Alisyn Camerota| Anchor, New Day, CNN
Big Picture: "I didn't understand in the '70s how revolutionary it was to have this protagonist be an unmarried, hard-charging career woman. It had such a great message. She was optimistic."
Indelible Image: Mary confronting her boss, Lou Grant (Ed Asner). "I always think of her going into the lion's den and him gruffly roaring at her."
It's Personal: When Camerota was launching her career as an on-camera reporter, if something in her life wasn't going well, her best friend (also a reporter) would cheer her up by singing the show's theme song.
Harris Faulkner| Cohost, Outnumbered; anchor, Outnumbered Overtime, Fox News
Big Picture: In 2000, Faulkner gained new appreciation for the show when she became the first African-American woman to anchor KSPT's 5 p.m. newscast in Minneapolis.
Indelible Image: "She was the embodiment of what I thought a woman striving in a predominantly white male industry should be: confident, ready to fight whatever the struggles are, and hopeful because things are changing."
It's Personal: When accepting a regional Emmy while at KSTP, Faulkner thought, "This is proof that a young girl can come to Minneapolis, throw her hat in the air, twirl around and have her dreams come true."
Mary Hager| Executive producer, Face the Nation, CBS
Big Picture: "Mary Richards did a lot for journalism, even though she was a fictional character. You couldn't help wanting her to succeed, she always had the last word, and she was always the most sensible one in the newsroom. She was definitely someone to look up to."
Indelible Image: The final scene in the finale as the gang crosses the newsroom singing "It's a Long Way to Tipperary."
It's Personal: Hager's mother, also named Mary, was a journalist. "Women journalists weren't commonplace at that point. My mom was a trailblazer and trendsetter at the same time Mary Richards was. It was one of my mom's favorite shows and we watched it together as a family."
Susan Hendricks| Anchor, HLN Weekend Express
Big Picture: For Hendricks, the legacy of the series lies in those who loved it, like Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Tina Fey and legions more. "It's about who you look up to, and who they looked up to. Everyone's influenced by family members, teachers, TV shows. You absorb what you're exposed to and say, 'If they can do that, I can do that.'"
Lesson Learned: Be comfortable in your own skin.
It's Personal: A college-aged Hendricks and her sister had a "Chuckles the Clown" moment at their great-uncle's funeral. "I was biting the inside of my lip and pretending to cry because we couldn't stop laughing. Sorry, Uncle Peter."
Sara Just| Executive producer, PBS NewsHour ; senior vice- president, WETA
Big Picture: "It's certainly a snapshot of an era, but there's relevance today in the relationships among the colleagues, their respect for each other, the give and take. They were friends. But Mary was respected, and that definitely planted a seed in my young brain that television journalism was an interesting place to work."
Indelible Image: Lou telling Mary, "You've got spunk. I hate spunk."
It's Personal: "It inspired my dreams of being a working woman, especially a journalist. It made an impression that you could be respected for your work even if you're not the on-air star. I appreciate that Mary Richards was a producer."
Andrea Mitchell| NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent; anchor, MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell Reports
Big Picture: Mitchell was a local reporter during much of the show's original run. "It was the '70s, and the movement for women's rights was reaching critical mass. The show had the first reference to the pill in a sitcom, which is remarkable."
Indelible Image: The theme song. "'You're gonna make it after all' was imprinted on all of us, and when I say 'all of us,' there were so few back then."
It's Personal: Mary Richards provided a role model when few newsrooms would hire women. "Her experiences with Lou Grant were very close to home, because I was starting out in Philadelphia in a newsroom that was all male. Her experiences on the sitcom were actually very close to reality."
Christi Paul| Weekend anchor, New Day, CNN
Big Picture: "We'd all benefit from bingeing The Mary Tyler Moore Show. It inspires us to accept ourselves with all our faults and imperfections."
Lesson Learned: Use levity to deflect conflict. When Lou asks her religion, Mary refuses to answer. He asks if she's married. "She answers, 'Presbyterian.' She knew how to detour the conversation."
It's Personal: Paul watched along with her parents but couldn't fully appreciate the show. "What stood out when I was older and making my own choices: this was not a show about someone trying to find a husband or children. That shaped me and the way I've used my abilities."
Deborah Roberts| ABC News correspondent
Big Picture: "It served as an aspirational look at feminism, growth, career choices and hopes and dreams for a lot of women. Even though it was a comedy, it spoke to women about the possibility of going out there and owning your life and taking a chunk of the world — like Mary did — and celebrating it. It had a powerful message that reached even little girls like me, down in small- town Georgia."
Indelible Image: The decorative M on Mary's apartment wall.
It's Personal: Each Saturday night in Perry, Georgia, "I was right there with my Fanta orange soda watching Mary Richards in whatever her latest situation was."
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 9, 2020